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Pakistan's litmus test

The team has never won a series in South Africa, but this set of players has good reason to believe that they can reverse the trend

Saad Shafqat

January 24, 2013

Comments: 78 | Text size: A | A

Umar Gul has a chat with Junaid Khan, Sharjah, November 2, 2011
Pakistan's bowlers, led by Umar Gul and Junaid Khan, will be key to their chances in South Africa © AFP
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If there is an emotion combining white-knuckle fear and giddy anticipation in equal parts, then that is what Pakistan supporters are feeling as the Test series in South Africa approaches. The excitement is understandable: Pakistan have increasingly looked a confident and balanced Test side over the last couple of years. With copious raw talent and a fine blend of experience and youth, they seem entirely capable of causing an upset.

The apprehension, too, is justified: South Africa have home advantage, enormous ability, winning momentum, and that sharp edge that comes from being the world's top-ranked side. This is easily Pakistan's toughest challenge yet in what has been a period of resurgence for them following the 2010 spot-fixing mess.

Tours to South Africa may not be embedded in the Pakistani psyche with the same depth and impact as trips to England, Australia, or India, but this one already has a different and dominant feel to it. From Pakistan's last series there, only four South Africans (Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, and AB de Villiers) and three Pakistanis (Mohammad Hafeez, Younis Khan and Faisal Iqbal) survive. This time around, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander will open the bowling for South Africa, and their batting order will include the impressive newcomer Faf du Plessis in addition to the intimidating quartet of Smith, Amla, Kallis and de Villiers. If you wanted to test your cricketing mettle, you couldn't ask for a more comprehensive, probing and public examination.

Misbah-ul-Haq has termed it a litmus test for Pakistan. That's an accurate metaphor, because there will be no ambiguity about the result. Man for man, South Africa are the superior side, which means even a drawn series will effectively be a win for Pakistan. On the other hand, a series defeat will mean Pakistan will still be short of being counted among the upper tier of Test nations.

The history of past tours is not encouraging. South Africa is one of three remaining territories (Australia and West Indies are the others) where Pakistan have yet to win a Test series. In nine Tests spread over four tours beginning in 1995, there have been only two Pakistan wins and six defeats. This win-loss ratio of 0.33 is Pakistan's second-worst away from home; only their record in Australia (four wins and 21 losses; win-loss ratio 0.19) is worse.

The lesson of those two victories - Durban 1998 and Port Elizabeth 2007 - is that seam and spin working in tandem can be effective in South Africa. In Durban, Shoaib Akhtar induced a South African collapse in the first innings and Mushtaq Ahmed took a match-clinching six-for with his legspin in the second. In Port Elizabeth, Mohammad Asif's seam bowling was strongly complemented by the wristspin of Danish Kaneria.

None of the bowlers in the current squad have toured South Africa before for a bilateral series, but they have done enough in international cricket to show they have the teeth to bowl out any opposition twice. Umar Gul has accuracy and experience, Junaid Khan has speed with bilateral movement, and Mohammad Irfan has an imposing frame and releases the ball from what the batsman perceives to be above sightscreen height. Irfan's durability for five-day cricket is something of an unknown quantity, but a man who can lift length balls chest-high on placid Asian pitches definitely deserves a chance on the bouncier turf of South Africa. All three seamers will be under pressure for their place, because the 19-year-old rookie Ehsan Adil is nipping at their heels.

Eventually it may all come down to Saeed Ajmal. He is the only Pakistan player who would be an automatic selection in the South African team, which makes him something of a trump card. Ajmal's record against South Africa may not be particularly menacing, but over the last two years - his best period in the game - he has met them only once (in a T20I).

His great asset, apart from mastery of the fundamentals, is increasingly skilful variation, delivered with cunning and guile. Especially in the second innings, he has the potential to play havoc with the South African line-up. Whenever conditions are conducive to spin, Ajmal will have quality support from Hafeez's tight offspin at the other end. Abdur Rehman is another excellent spinner in the squad, but with Pakistan expected to play six batsmen and three seamers, it is hard to see him in the final XI.

Perhaps the most reassuring aspect of this Pakistan campaign is that it exudes a sense of stability that makes a sharp contrast with its predecessors. Misbah knows how to manage and motivate, and enjoys a thinking collaboration with vice-captain Hafeez

The chink in Pakistan's armour is their batting, which is notorious for coming undone against bounce and sideways movement. Pakistan's six defeats in South Africa confirm this only too well, with an average innings total of 198, and only one member of the current squad having scored a century - Taufeeq Umar, who made 135 in a losing cause in Cape Town in 2003. Bizarrely, Taufeeq wasn't picked for the subsequent tour in 2007, but he has since resurrected his career and settled into the opener's slot again.

The rest of the batting also more or less selects itself, with Hafeez opening alongside Taufeeq, followed by Azhar Ali, Younis, and Misbah. Beyond this there is room for only one additional recognised batsman, which means either Nasir Jamshed or Asad Shafiq will be sitting out. Faisal Iqbal and Haris Sohail are two other batsmen in the squad, but unless they play the warm-up game in East London and do something spectacular, it is hard to see them being in serious contention.

Conspicuous by their absence are the Akmal brothers, Umar, Kamran, and Adnan. Umar has plainly lost the plot somewhere; his international batting average continues to slip, and is currently languishing in the mid-30s after having been about ten runs higher around two years ago. Kamran was a contender for the wicketkeeping role but was devalued by abysmal batting failures in India.

Word is that Misbah was keen on including at least Adnan in the side, but Sarfraz Ahmed outperformed him in the domestic season with stark numbers that could not be ignored. The Akmals have not endeared themselves to Pakistan's fan base in recent times, and most Pakistan supporters have interpreted their collective absence as a positive development.

Perhaps the most reassuring aspect of this Pakistan campaign is that it exudes a sense of stability that makes a sharp contrast with its predecessors. Misbah's captaincy has now extended to an uninterrupted two and a half years, over which he has accumulated a steady record of success. He knows how to manage and motivate, and enjoys a thinking collaboration with the vice-captain, Hafeez. Around this time last year, he led his men against another top-ranked Test side, and that didn't turn out so badly. Under Misbah's watch, the team has also kept clear of the kind of damaging scandals that had hobbled them in 2010 and earlier. The resulting equilibrium - historically rare in Pakistan sides - is an ideal tonic for players to strive towards their best.

Although Pakistan's win-loss ratio at South African venues is disappointing, there is some consolation in the fact that in comparison with other teams it turns out to be third-best. Only Australia and England have done better, and this hierarchy persists even if you exclude the pre-apartheid era. All other teams have a worse win-loss ratio in South Africa than Pakistan. This may not be a ringing endorsement, but combined with Pakistan's talent and arc of revival, it does indicate that they are as good a bet as any to record an inaugural series win in South Africa.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

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Posted by Huban on (January 27, 2013, 20:08 GMT)

well i think this pak line up is quite capable of doing any upset in SA. only they need is believe in themselves Misbah is quite good as captain only thing he needs to do is attack he goes in defensive mind set and that's where the problem starts but still he is good enough that under his captaincy pak never lost a test series. and as far as pak team is concern in my opinion nasir jamshaid and asad shaiq should play i don't think there's any place of azhar ali and bowling dept is already full hope we gonna have some quality cricket at the end of all this , best of luck team pak

Posted by   on (January 26, 2013, 19:55 GMT)

South Africa will thrash Pakistan 3-0. Pakistan are just overrated but hopefully the South Africans will show where this old team belongs :D

Posted by spellbinder76 on (January 25, 2013, 21:48 GMT)

Pakistan needs a dependable middle oredr batsman. Azhar has been tried and tested and he is basically an average player on U.A.E. pictches. He cannot play the fast and swintging ball. All will depend on the form of Younus Khan. Fawd Alam is the best middle order batsman and a dependable player under crises. He has been sidelined for too long. His average in test and ODI is better then any current test middle order batsman other then Younus Khan.

Posted by davidatlas999 on (January 25, 2013, 19:09 GMT)

pakistan need to play haris sohail he is in his form of life.also i dont think playing azhar make any good for pakistan he had the worst Fc avg 36.

Posted by WeeBee on (January 25, 2013, 18:12 GMT)

Nice Article! .. i really want to add a very little thing in it. After 2009 there was no international cricket in Pakistan, Country is facing major crises in various areas including Sports Politics. In such time if your players play well then it really puts soft image of the country. I really admire Pakistani Cricketers for this thing , they are doing good !!! I dont ask them to win everything but to play like if they have already won.

Posted by   on (January 25, 2013, 11:14 GMT)

The author nailed it.Its just a question of how Pakistani batsmen handle SA bowling,Vernon philanderer especially.I personally believe Pakistan have a slight upper hand inspite of their woeful batting line up.Their bowling arsenal is so diverse.Mohammed Irfan,Junaid khan ,saeed Ajmal are an absolute delight and if England can go down 3-0 against them in a test series on moderately responsive pitches in UAE(remember England got routed for 70 odd runs in a session chasing 140) ,Pakistan has every right to believe they can make it 3-0 here too.This isnt an exaggeration for we all know that SA are not that good in their home conditions.India and Srilanka have managed to win a test here with less than impressive bowling attacks.AMLA,KALLIS,SMITH and DEVILLIERS are the key and while this quartet can be credited with playing Fast bowlers well,am not sure how good they will be aginst Saeed Ajmal or Abdur rehman for its been sometime since SA played quality spin.Looking forward to this series.

Posted by Solid_Snake on (January 25, 2013, 10:10 GMT)

Pak started well in the tour match..I hope they continue like that.Glad to see that Nasir Jamshed is being tested & Pak going with 3 Pacers

Posted by Shouldas-Wouldas-Couldas on (January 25, 2013, 9:09 GMT)

In their own backyard, top draw South Africa will be tough nut to crack but they are not " bomb-proof". New look Pakistani attack has the fire power/variety to dismantle any batting line up on either seaming, bouncing/flat and/or spinning tracks. Pakistan's batting is the weak link and ability of Pakistani batsmen to deal with rising and swinging balls will have a major impact on outcome. On song Pakistan will present a stern test and instead of "Pakistan's litmus test" the series may turn out be a "ACID TEST" for Proteas. Go Paki Go !

Posted by Sports4Youth on (January 25, 2013, 8:54 GMT)

In the tour practice match agaist SAF invitation XI Pakistan have opened thier batting with Hafeez & Jamshed. This could be an indication of the team in the 1st Test. So it looks like the competition for the 6th batsman is between Shafiq & Taufeeq.

Posted by Sports4Youth on (January 25, 2013, 8:47 GMT)

@ shahzadparacha :

I dont expect SA to prepare real green tops against this Pakistani Pace attack. Alteast not in the first match. If they do, they will be playing with a double edged sword. Because Pakistan's pace attack is equally devastating and has more variety. Also their spin department is blessed with Ajmal & Hafeez. With Abdur Rehman & Adil on the reserves, SA will think hard before giving them green tops. If Mohammed Amir clicks he will be a real terror on these pitches, add to that the guil of Junaid & support of Gul's experience & accuracy, though I have found Gul to be dissapointing in the last 2 years or so.

Posted by Sports4Youth on (January 25, 2013, 8:23 GMT)

The best comment being the positive developement for Pakistan by the combined absense of the Akmals. Regarding Sarfraz I have high hopes from him. I anticipate he will be better than all the past pakistan Keepers with the bat. He is also likely to be decent with the Gloves, alteast better than Kamran.

Regarding the Pakistan bowling if they find the right line & lengths early on, then they should be devastating. Especially the variety in the bowling department, both pace & spin is unmatched. The pacers got pace & movement both in the air & on surface. THOUGH THEY WILL NEED SUPPORT FROM THE FIELDERS. This is the department where the absence of Kamran will be appreciated most.

Batting looks relatively settled with there being competition for the 6th batsman. Taufeeq has an edge with his past record in SA, But I think on form Jamshed & Shafiq may tip him.


Posted by shahzadparacha on (January 25, 2013, 8:09 GMT)

Awesome article.

Pakistan do stand an outside chance in this series but partnerships will be key. If Pakistan can score more than 300 in each of their test Innings they they will win this test series.

This is not easy though against Steyn and company on green tops which are expected for this series.

Posted by   on (January 25, 2013, 6:57 GMT)

This is going to be a tough one for both teams, SA may have home advantage but PAK is certainly eager to prove a point. Indeed Pakistani bowling attack is capable of dismantling the Proteas but batting line up remains the concern. For sure SA will dominate the first test but rest of the series might go in favor of PAKISTAN as we all know they can be very unpredictable and might get use to the conditions. Good Luck to both teams, may the best WINS....

Posted by Solid_Snake on (January 25, 2013, 6:09 GMT)

@CricIndia208 ->Hey man Australia is on its way to India..You have to focus on how to save that series.India got a white wash coming ahead & their fans are busy else where predicting white washes for other nations lol

Posted by mikey76 on (January 25, 2013, 2:53 GMT)

I'd love to see Ajmal get 250+ to bowl at on a 4th/5th day pitch but I just don't think Pakistan's top 6 has enough to put the bowlers in a winning position. They are certainly a way better side than India so should put up a decent show. Always love to watch Pakistan, they always seem to produce unique talent, especially bowlers. Such a shame Amir and Asif are banned, they would be world class with those two taking the new ball.

Posted by farhan4050 on (January 25, 2013, 2:38 GMT)

I pity the Indian fans and their sentiments. Two consecutive white-washes and then a shameful Home series loss against England, loosing their spot from No1 to No5 is not a mean feat. But let me tell you something, In overseas Pakistan has the best record of the Winning Ratio compared with other Asian teams. On paper without a shadow of Doubt, SA is much much stronger but we have the ability to make shockers. Only if our Batting Clicks (Younus, Azhar, Misbah, Shafiq) I'm sure that the bowlers (Junaid, Irfan 1st Innings, Ajmal, Gul 2nd Innings) can wear out the SA run machine. We only need to justify the selection of the XI and bring them the best team possible.

Best of Luck PAK. Go create History.

Posted by fuzzyeggs on (January 25, 2013, 0:49 GMT)

if pak wants to win they have to open wth the 1 and only the great Umar Gul. he is the only 1 who can play morkel, steyn and philander i think.............. ps i am a pak fan and wnt pak to win badly...

Posted by HellDiver on (January 24, 2013, 23:54 GMT)

If Pakistan can avoid a clean sweep, that will be great. The batting is too weak to think Pakistan can win the series. A draw or even a 1-2 loss wont be disgraceful. Still, best of luck to Pakistan

Posted by CricFanster on (January 24, 2013, 23:31 GMT)

@ aayaz01 As a true cricket fan I totally agree with the comment you made in reply ........ although there are So many comments from the emotional Ind-Pak fans which makes no sense sometimes and they display their affection towards their respective teams by pointing out negatives of each other's nation which to some extent are comical but mostly its hatred lol !

Time will tell which team was better SA or PAK , I must say if India can draw last series in SA with not so powerful pace attack then PAK can definitely achieve that too although there is decent amount of batting effort required by PAK Batsmen. So there is a hope and I dont agree with people that its going to be 3-0 for SA before the start of 1st test itself cuz we all will witness how PAK batting handles the SA attack :D !

Posted by Cricket_theBestGame on (January 24, 2013, 23:27 GMT)

it will be tough choosing between azhar ali and jamshed. jamshed has shown he is world class but in test he is yet make his mark. azhar ali is a good solid batsman. what pak needs to do it ensure they play their potential 11 in the warm up matches. which means both azhar and jamshed must play those.

Posted by TruthSL on (January 24, 2013, 22:27 GMT)

@bigdhonifan, Mate, Pak has beaten you guys on your own backyard and why not they cant win against RSA if they fight well. Pak is way better then you guys and they have shown you that recently..

Posted by avmd on (January 24, 2013, 21:45 GMT)

This Pakistan team probably is not better than the previous ones to visit SA, but I think they are better prepared, mentally to face SA. Has a very sensible captain, caoch and Akram, the bowling coach has also earned my respect so far. His effort are showing up in improvement of fast bowling. Concern about Irfan;s test match fitness is a real one but I'm very hopeful he will be OK. He has three seaon of four day FC matches under him and he has been bowling 15-18 overs a day in those unresponsive wickets.

Posted by whoster on (January 24, 2013, 21:38 GMT)

The Pakistan bowling attack may well be capable of taking 20 wickets, but I don't think their batting is strong enough to get anything out of the series. They're a much improved side though, and I'd love to see them put up a good fight.

Posted by bigdhonifan on (January 24, 2013, 21:08 GMT)

Can Pakistan's mediocre batsman score against Philander, Morkel and Steyn? If Pakistan score 250 , they have chance to win otherwise 3-0 on card. You need caliber batsman to win tests in South Africa like what India did in South Africa last time. Pakistan pace bowlers wont be effective, only hope is Ajmal and Rahman. But Amla, Kallis play spinner better.

Posted by oayaz01 on (January 24, 2013, 20:11 GMT)

@CricFanster - I too have alot of respect for Sachin, I made a comment to explain that Pak drew a series years before India even started looking like winning a test in SAF, and that 96 line up has Sachin, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly in it. And in that test, Sachin was definetely beaten by pace, you can watch the video on youtube but I still remember that game watching live on tele.

Posted by I.Aziz on (January 24, 2013, 20:06 GMT)

It sure is a litmus test,, not for bowling, batting or fielding but as a team,, as their performances in past 2 years or so will suggest that Pakistan are one of the better test playing teams in the world,, it maybe or perhaps actually is a high time to show that they are better at delivering in unfavorable conditions also. Speaking of current Pakistan batting line up,, well it is good enough to up their avg. score by at least 25 runs to their previous which will make it around 225 and that will suggest at least 2 scores of 350+ and I believe they are very much capable of that and bowling if as good as always so bearing in mind South Africans record against Pakistan bowling one test victory is very much on cards.Don't write off this Pakistan batting side this not the same which visited Australia and England there is lot of stability in this lineup. I see series ending up at 1-1. This one is the same as cornered tigers and this one is going to deliver I bet ya it will.

Posted by SDHM on (January 24, 2013, 19:55 GMT)

The problem about playing in South Africa is that it offers the movement, both through the air and off the pitch, that is associated with English pitches combined to the bounce and pace we think of as typically Australian. It is a tough place to bat in other words, something even the home side has struggled to deal with at times! It's about as different from Karachi or Lahore as the Pakistani batsmen will ever experience. Just can't see them putting enough runs on the board, but if they can eke decent scores out, they have the bowling attack to put SA under serious pressure.

Posted by CricFanster on (January 24, 2013, 19:39 GMT)

@oayaz01 Dude that same Donald has Immense respect for Sachin whose footwork according to you was 20 k slower than the ball lol Fans like you just make other people laugh with these childish posts

have a look ----->

This article is from 2002 which shows the respect man had without all those other records he broke in next 10 years .

Bro hope article will open your eyes .....!

As far as Upcoming tour is concerned lot of fans are bashing and bragging their respective teams but I know PAK will put up a good fight and even though series win looks unlikely for PAK boys , i think they have the potential to draw the series 1-1 .I see Lot of negative talk about Pak batting but i disagree with some fellows here because Pak batting may be inexperienced but its much better NZ batting for sure. Yes, PAK Bowling looks settled and if they hold their catches it will be a good competition . I say its still 60-40 in favor of SA

Posted by oayaz01 on (January 24, 2013, 19:32 GMT)

@Cricfan_99 - Though I don't agree on bringing India here but some of your stats needs a bit more exploration. Pakistan has lost 9 tests in a row in OZ , but out of those 9, the 6 tests were played with Warne Mgragth era which means the best Australian bowling line up. In contrast India only played 3 and lost all 3 ( Remember 1999 when Pak won 3 outta 4 ODI's against India to reach world series Finals as well?). India 1-1 in 2004 was against a B Australian bowling line up ( No Mgrath, warne and Gillespie and Lee only played one odd test). Against England India won two test in the last 10 years but what about the tour of 96 and 90 when India lost badly and Pakistan won in 92, 96 and drew in 2001? Wins in WI has come in last 10 years when WI has really declined and India has gone their for 3-4 test match series.

India had a better side thann Pakistan in the last 5-8 years( 2003-2009) but that's it. For the other 60 years we have dominated India as far is cricket is concerned.

Posted by Beertjie on (January 24, 2013, 19:32 GMT)

Win the toss and put the opposition in is my advice to Pakistan. Bat first and you won't last long enough for Ajmal to be as effective as a spinner normally would (SA will gain a too big a lead on the first innings to struggle to get the target set.). Also slip catching has to be up to standard - few (if any) dropped catches. Play Irfan in the first test, but he's unlikely to be available thereafter. Despite my initial advice take a good look at the second test wicket and forecast. If its hot and dry take a punt on Rehman and bat first in that case. A drawn series would make everyone take notice and who knows if it might speed up a return to test cricket in Pakistan in the not too distant future? Good luck boys!

Posted by Cricfan_99 on (January 24, 2013, 18:53 GMT)

@KiwiRocker - Errrr - speaking of statistics you got it all wrong mate.. if PK has won 2 matches in England then why take potshots at IND? .. IND has won 2 tests in ENG in 02 & 07(to clinch the series) - and before you claim that PK is the best SC team outside SC - have you even bothered to look at your team's record in Oz in the past 3 tours there ? well if you're suffering from amnesia lemme remind you (99/00 = 3-0, 04/05 = 3-0, 09/10 =3-0). IND have won 5 tests in Oz & PK have won 4, and PK are yet to win a series in WI - while IND have won 2 series, Don't have to be a statistician to figure that out.... Why bring out trash against IND in PK forums ?? Anyway good luck with the SA tour.. Hope you stick around after the series is over !!!

Posted by oayaz01 on (January 24, 2013, 18:52 GMT)

@CricIndia208 - Pakistan drew their first series in SAF when an year ago the heavy weight Indians were bowled out for 100 and 66 in Durban which included Sachin's dismissal bowled by Donald through the gate as ball came 20k faster than his footwork. India has only won 2 test same as Pak but have played 15 test in SAF compare to Pak 8!!

Posted by   on (January 24, 2013, 18:36 GMT)

I don't see Pakistan winning this series. SA have a fantastic side with both quality bowlers and batsmen. They've won away series in England and Australia in the last 6 months and are looking quite formidable right now. Pakistan's bowling attack is good, but their batting is still a concern. I don't think they can handle Steyn and Philander. But I do think that Pak can win 1 of the 3 tests as SA are famous for "choking." SL managed a win in SA last year so the Pakistanis are definitely capable of pulling off one win.

Posted by spellbinder76 on (January 24, 2013, 17:32 GMT)

Pakistan need one batsmen in the middle who can play in crisis situation, like Asif Iqbal. Fawad Alam has played and won matches in crises situation. He is also an excellent fielder. His batting record speaks for himself.

Posted by Resultpredictor on (January 24, 2013, 16:49 GMT)

Pakistan cannot win on bouncy pitches like SA. SA will win the series 3-0 or 2-0. Under Misbah's captaincy Pak have not played a quality opposition and on bouncy pitches. And moreover Pak batting is one of the worst. So it will be an easy series victory for SA

Posted by Alphabaig on (January 24, 2013, 15:45 GMT)

Pakistan is also third on the list of LEAST number of test matches played in South Africa, behind Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. On the other hand Eng and Aus have together played more test matches than all the other teams combined. Even excluding the pre apartheid matches, Eng and Aus have toured South Africa regularly. Even with all those matches Eng and Aus batsmen struggle sometimes. So, there will not be much expectation from Pakistan batsmen. In other words they have no pressure on therm while South Africa being the No. 1 side, have more pressure on the them.

Posted by HUSSAM007 on (January 24, 2013, 15:33 GMT)

I think both teams have a 50/50 chance.

P.S Pakistan Zindabad!

Posted by CandidIndian on (January 24, 2013, 14:54 GMT)

SA pitches are quite bowler friendly as we all know and as test experts always say that bowling will win you lots of test matches while batting will save lot of test matches for you.Keeping this factor in mind i dont think anyone can be termed favorite in this series as both Saffas and Pak have excellent bowlers.Although SA are in form and no 1 currently Pakistan should capitalize on one weak like that SA does not have dangerous spinner like Ajmal or an intelligent spinner like Swann.Also toss is very important because pitches ease out to get better for batting in SA so if initial resistance is good then you have an edge.If Pakistani pace bowlers are successful in taking early wickets then they can put huge pressure on SA as there will be no relief in middle overs because of Ajmal.It will be a great contest for sure, all the best to SA and Pak fans ,may the best team wins ,cheers.

Posted by CandidIndian on (January 24, 2013, 14:51 GMT)

SA pitches are quite bowler friendly as we all know and as test experts always say that bowling will win you lots of test matches while batting will save lot of test matches for you.Keeping this factor in mind i dont think anyone can be termed favorite in this series as both Saffas and Pak have excellent bowlers.Although SA are in form and no 1 currently Pakistan should capitalize on one weak like that SA does not have dangerous spinner like Ajmal or an intelligent spinner like Swann.Also toss is very important because pitches ease out to get better for batting in SA so if initial resistance is good then you have an edge.If Pakistani pace bowlers are successful in taking early wickets then they can put huge pressure on SA as there will be no relief in middle overs because of Ajmal.It will be a great contest for sure, all the best to SA and Pak fans ,may the best team wins ,cheers.

Posted by BowledYa on (January 24, 2013, 14:24 GMT)

I have hunch this is going to be a Pakistan party. SA are beatable as New Zealand have recently shown on ODIs and Pakistan is playing with confidence. My prediction for Paksitan to win 2-1.

Posted by AK47_pk on (January 24, 2013, 14:22 GMT)

So pakistan have better win loss ratio among asian teams against sa in sa. Well good enuf for me to be happy right now.

Posted by master668 on (January 24, 2013, 14:03 GMT)

we all know very well about Pakistan batting concerns, but I cant understand the inclusion of taufeeq instead of nasir jamshed or even asad shafiq, not only it will take either of them a better player out of the side but also will disturb the whole combination of the side. As pointed out in this article Pakistan's avrage here is only 198, so I believe if Pak can only lift it up to 280 only for this series they will be in a very good position to get S.A. to less than that twice. we dont mind defeats but the fight must go on.

Posted by waseem raja on (January 24, 2013, 13:48 GMT)

I've a feeling tht this series is going to b a low scoring one.With both sides having high quality bowling attack-pakistans(pace+spin) attack n SA high quality pace attack........One quality innings by either side batsman ll hav a high impact on the test outcome

Posted by xylofon on (January 24, 2013, 13:36 GMT)

Why does Pakistan have to invite a disaster before they make a change? The necessery change is to remove Younis and Misbah (I love these guys) because they are too old now and make way for the youngsters.

Posted by hamza1982 on (January 24, 2013, 13:22 GMT)

Nice little article. I was disappointed with 2 selections. Faisal should never play international cricket, Hamaad Azam should be in for him (one too many batters in the squad), and Wahab should be in for Ehsan, as Wahab has exp of playing in england where conditions are similar to S.AF. But overall, I think I was sooo relieved that none of the Akmals, especially Kamran and Adnan were not selected. Safraz deserves a long run. With a batting average in FC cricket of 42, he should be given the rest of the year in all forms of the game. Here is my XI for the first Test: Hafeez Jamshed Ali Y.Khan Ul-Haq Sohail Ahmed (wk) Gul Ajmal J.Khan Irfan

I would however be tempted into opening with Hafeez and T.Umar, and dropping Ali, with Jamshed coming in at 3. But for now, I think the above is the best line up.

Posted by Harlequin. on (January 24, 2013, 13:15 GMT)

Great article, although I would contest the opinion that if they lose, Pakistan will fail to be counted among the top tier of test cricket. If you were to split the test world in half: SA,Eng,Aus,Pak would be the top 4 without a doubt.

This series should be a cracker though, and I wouldn't be quick to write off Pakistan, the middle order looks solid: Younis and Misbah are proven warriors and this Azhar kid seems pretty useful. If their fielders can do what Eng's and NZ's couldn't - hold on to Amla's catches - then the saffer batting line-up may show a few cracks. I'm still going for 2-1 SA though!! With Amir it would be the other way around, he was that good.

Posted by   on (January 24, 2013, 13:08 GMT)

Boycott is spot on. For Pakistan to win in South Africa, their Batsmen have to score runs, lots of them and in every innings, without which their decent bowling attack will appear no good. Time for Mohammad Hafiz to make a name for himself and get a reputation, become immortal.

Posted by StarsnStumps on (January 24, 2013, 12:56 GMT)

@SuPerDuPerMaN i think a better option would be to continue with the successful opening partnership of hazeez and umar and play jamshed at 6 where he is likely to be under less pressure and can play with more freedom and possibly counter the 2nd new ball

Posted by zalmaypk on (January 24, 2013, 12:39 GMT)

Nice article.if we see then the batting is always a problem for Pakistan in seaming conditions,but if there is commitment in the players .then Pakistan has succeeded,so i hope if the current players show again their commitment with calmness then they will take over...

Posted by teamxxx on (January 24, 2013, 12:35 GMT)

well surely it is going to be a real test for PAK team especially for Pak batsmen,as they havent performed well historically against the seaming and moving deliveries,n also this thing happened to all of the subcontinent batsmen,but as for as i know that most of the previous bilateral series were all low scoring matches(exception to the UAE series).as we can see that there is only one batsmen from two teams who has scored more than 1000 runs with 6 centuries, and also he played the most number of matches between the two teams(15 out of 18) so surely he will be the man for south africa although SA have one of the very best batting line up at the moment with 3 of thier batsmen in top 10 ranking,SA will have to play S AJMAL well coz historically their batsmen are not good players of spin bowling except AMLA n Kallis,n also there is HAFEEZ who is a very dangerous bowler against left handers so i think Smith really needs to tackle him well coz Misbah can give him a new ball to attack smith

Posted by   on (January 24, 2013, 10:49 GMT)

Pakistan can easily take over their opponents by just making thieir batting+fielding stronger than SA

Posted by SurlyCynic on (January 24, 2013, 10:45 GMT)

As an SA supporter I always have a lot of respect for Pakistan. They produce great fast bowlers and talented batsmen, and usually top spinners as well. This team seems more settled and consistent than in the past too.

Can't wait for the series to start.

Posted by SherjilIslam on (January 24, 2013, 10:14 GMT)

The article is extremely good.Man by man, SA are way ahead of Pakistan.But then Pakistan does carry the reputation of "The Unpredictables" Also i would say, the sub-continents teams always over-hyped the SA conditions.I still remember the 2002 series,India were 64/4 and that was Sehwag's debut test.He and SRT smashed all the SA bowlers and went on to score tons in one of the finest counter attacks.Ultimately India lost the test because of very ordinary bowling. So, if Pakistan batsmen play to their potential and doesn't take the SA conditions on their head, they could well beat the SA.

Posted by Unomaas on (January 24, 2013, 10:03 GMT)

Great article Saad! Enjoyed it very much!

As a saffa, am very excited about the Pakistani's visiting our shores. Should be a cracker of a test match series.

I think Pakistan's fortunes will revolve around one person ... Saeed Ajmal. Memories from the English tour reminds us that with the effective nullification of Swan, SA were able to gain the upper hand.

With all the talk about Pakistan's batting, I think 250 will be a competitive innings score and Pakistan bowlers my back themselves to defend that!

For the 3 must bat out 20-30 overs..MUST! Stonewall or bat agressive but must resist! For Philander, step a good meter out of your crease and nullify moving ball. For Steyn, straight bat, shelve your cover drive, watch the LBW ball that swings back in for the right hander. If you've done all that and still gotten out, he is the number one bowler after all. Watch out for his reverse swinger that he has brought out of retirement. Morkel play with respect! Attack peterson!

Posted by khurramsch on (January 24, 2013, 9:24 GMT)

@indian fan: drawing 1 series doesnt make you better in SA. check the win loss ratio and even with fragile batting line up pak has better ratio then india. whereas india has all the super power batsmen all that period.

Posted by   on (January 24, 2013, 9:21 GMT)

Here is one interesting the start of last year Pakistan was facing the world no. 1 side and there were doubts about their capabilities and what happened in that series is, at the start of 2013 they are again facing the no. 1 side with nobody giving them chance.......Batting is fragile, but it is not as it has always been, not in quality but temperment of this batting lineup can be compared to any........Azhar Ali, Misbah, YK and Asad shafiq can last "days" on pitches without getting out.........I will bet on Pakistan.

Posted by LillianThomson on (January 24, 2013, 9:16 GMT)

Last time Pakistan toured South Africa, in 06-07:

South Africa's scores were 417, 199-3, 124, 331, 183 and 161-5.

The surviving batsmen performed as follows:

Smith: 0, 32, 28, 10, 64, 33. Amla: 71, 64*, 5, 16, 2, 3. Kallis: 18, 60*, 24, 91, 28, 51. de Villiers: 4, 12, 2, 15, 11, 4*.

There was a very similar pattern in the drawn 97-98 series, from which the only survivor is:

Kallis: 15, 43, 22, 10, 69.

When Pakistan does well in South Africa, it is always within the context of a low-scoring series.

In 97-98 the series was drawn 1-1.

In 2006-07, South Africa did win 2-1, but only because Messrs Asif and Kaneria stopped taking wickets after reducing SA to 39-4 in pursuit of a target of 161.

It is asking an awful lot for the raw Junaid and Irfan to bowl South Africa out as cheaply this time.

It is sad that the selfishness of a few players will deprive us all of watching an attack of Asif + Amir + Junaid + Ajmal.

Posted by True_Pakistani on (January 24, 2013, 9:14 GMT)

Really a very well written article :) Pak should have to play at their best, need to get SA out below 200 and Batters need to capitalize on that nd a get a lead of 150 atleast and them bowling SA out again cheaply in the 2nd (as we have best spinner as well) and getting a target around max 150 to chase. SA will definitley look to bat first as they dont want to bat 4th because of Ajmal, so Pak should make a good plan we have the world class but inexperienced fast bowlers but they have the ability to bowl SA out cheaply. IMO Pak should play with this team... Hafeez, Taufeeq, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Shafiq, Misbah, Sarfaraz, Gul, Junaid, Ajmal, Irfan... Nasir is a good player but we have a settelled opening pair in Test that has done fairly well nd given that Nasir is inexperienced i would give Taufeeq (also Taufeeq has done well in the past here) a nod over Nasir.

Posted by IndianInnerEdge on (January 24, 2013, 8:11 GMT)

Gr8 article SS...summed it up accurately-is indeed a litmus test, as a neutral cant wait for the series to start, offers a fantastic prospect of two good bowling lineups...hope to see exiting eyecatching test match-real cricket, :)

Posted by LillianThomson on (January 24, 2013, 6:53 GMT)

This is the first Pakistan team for many years to have batsmen averaging 40+ occupying positions 3, 4, 5 and 6 in the batting order.

We know that South Africa's attack isn't quite as lethal as it was on the last 3 Pakistan tours, and so much depends upon Pakistan's openers seeing off the new ball. If they fail, a South African victory is assured. But if Azhar, Younis, Misbah and Shafiq have the luxury of batting against the old ball, Pakistan is right in the game.

But Hafeez has never quite looked like a Test class opener, and while Taufeeq did well in South Africa a decade ago, his technique has deteriorated over the last 15 months to the point where he looks like a liability.

Pakistan's bowling should be fine. Last time Asif bowled South Africa out repeatedly for cheap scores, and Junaid, Irfan and Gul are well-suited to the conditions, while du Plessis, Elgar and the tail are unlikely to master Ajmal.

Posted by pauliangenius on (January 24, 2013, 6:33 GMT)

@CricIndia208 Plz do not be biased in your comments. Back then, S.A were not carrying a world number 1 hype on their backs and there was no Philander. Also, you had your most experienced batsmen available at that time.

Compare that with Pakistan, they have inexperienced fast bowlers+ the whole batting line up apart from Younis Khan is inexperienced as far as South African pitches are considered.

But do bear in mind that this team will do much better then your great team India who were thrashed by an innings in that series opener.

Posted by pauliangenius on (January 24, 2013, 6:28 GMT)

@Ablcric Those who are even thinking of Pakistan even beating South Africa And simultaneously quoting Pakistan win against England should straighten their facts.

Yes Pakistan did won against England when England became number 1 mostly by playing at home. England until then had not played quality spin bowling, and it was evident as tests progressed with England players getting out on mostly ordinary spin deliveries.

One should not forget that in the last test, when conditions favoured fast bowlers, Pakistan were dismissed for 99 only to be saved by spinners in the end. The current batting line up features mostly back foot players like Azhar Ali, Misbah, Taufiq, Sarfaraz Ahmed etc who can easily be done on Seaming tracks.

My point is that Pakistan can only be saved by their fast bowlers+ Ajmal who will need to dismiss South Africa under a 150 score and then the batsmen will have to secure a good lead. then the bowlers will have to ensure South Africa do not give a target of above 200

Posted by M.K.Luke on (January 24, 2013, 6:25 GMT)

If that is the case, Pakistan has nothing to lose since the team has a record of no series win against South Africa in South Africa. Now its up to South Africa how they gonna handle this young Pakistani side.I have watched all cricket teams & i have concluded that Pakistan Team is the most unpredictable team of all times. They have won losing matches & lost the winning ones. Although South Africa is better side in all three aspect (i-e bat, bowl & field) but in cricket every game is a new game & South Africa do need that its key players perform. It can't rely on Amla, Steyn & AB. All players must click to beat weaker but dangerous Pakistani side.

Posted by Meety on (January 24, 2013, 6:24 GMT)

Looking forward to this clash. I have enjoyed Pakistan's resurgence over the last couple of years - (even if it does include knocking Oz out of the 2011 W/Cup & beating us in a Test in England). I wish that Kaneria would of toured & bowled in tandem with Ajmal, no offense to Rehman, but I really rated Kaneria & believe his personal stats would of been about 10% better had he not had Akmal as a keeper. Ajmal is a key, but if Pakistan win this series, (or even a Test), I imagine it will be on the back of their pace attack. Having witnessed this current Saffa sides tenacity in Oz, Pakistan will have to win every battle in every session to knock them over. I have no doubts that Pakistan can outplay Sth Africa over the course of a day - even 2 days, but am unsure they can do it over 4 or 5. Hopefully it will involve better cricket than the bore-a-thon in the UAE last time the 2 teams met!

Posted by smalishah84 on (January 24, 2013, 5:52 GMT)

Let us hope that Pakistan can put up a good fight. A series win would be so so awesome

Posted by pauliangenius on (January 24, 2013, 5:34 GMT)

South Africa will beat Pakistan no doubt about that, but Pakistan will win at least one test take my word.

Posted by Green_Team on (January 24, 2013, 5:27 GMT)

Very nyc article . . . @CricIndia Dont get emotional and please check stats before going to judge any team . .

Posted by hoodbu on (January 24, 2013, 5:05 GMT)

How on earth is Sadaf Hussain not yet in the Pakistan squad? If 171 first-class wickets from 32 matches at an average of 17 is not good enough, than what is?

Posted by KiwiRocker- on (January 24, 2013, 4:46 GMT)

CricIndia2008: Comments without research can make anyone silly and it just happened to you. India has overall won two test matches in 15 tests against SA in SA. Pakistan has done same in 9 test matches, however, India has lost more test matches and if you read Saad' he points that out that Pakistan W/L ratio is third best in SA. Pakistan's last series against SA was also a draw. While we are on topic of winning and losing, may I also point out that India has lost 8 consecutive test matches in England and Australia and furthermore also last home series against England! If ICC was a full governance body, India's test status should have been revoked as minnows like B'desh and Zimbabwe have not suffered such shameful results. Pak drew last series against Australia in England ( more home for Australia than Pak). Pak has won two test matches in England in 2010 and India has not been able to do that for last 26 years! Pakistan among all subcontinent teams has BEST records overseas!Do't hate!

Posted by Chacha_ckt on (January 24, 2013, 4:41 GMT)

Extremely painful and embarrassing to see the lack of test cricket for Pakistan. Shame on PCB's indifference. All the best cricketing nations give priority to Tests. Having not played a single Test in over six months, it is INSANE to expect a weak Pakistani batting lineup to suddenly deliver their best against the best pace attack in the world! Had we played even one series over the last six months we would have been better prepared.

Posted by CricIndia208 on (January 24, 2013, 4:35 GMT)

India drew the previous series in SA, therefore India are a much better team than Pakistan. SA bowling is too strong for Pakistani batsman, Pakistan will lose all the three tests.

Posted by KiwiRocker- on (January 24, 2013, 4:20 GMT)

I look forward to Saad's pieces. They are always unbiased, factual and insightful unlike many other pundits around! For me the key was Saad's last Para, while Pakistan does not have a glowing record in SA, but teams like India and SL have done even worse than Pak in SA so this myth that India has got a mighty batting line is exposed. Its a consensus that Pak bowling will do well but batting will hold the key. The difference in Pak's current batting line up is that it holds three technically correct batsmen instead of usual Pak style dashing bashers. Azhar, Asad and Yunis can grind and score and they have done it before. Hafeez is playing his best cricket and while Misbah unsuitable in ODI's is a proven performer in tests with average of 45+.Pak's current team's biggets strength is that they do not carry any baggage! This team may not have Saeed Anwar, Inzemam, Wasim and Waqar but this team has a unity and that is rare in Pak teams! Pak will take series 1-0 and Saeed Ajmal wud be hero!

Posted by LillianThomson on (January 24, 2013, 3:31 GMT)

The PCB has scuttled Pakistan already: 1 warm-up match on the flattest track in South Africa is no way to prepare.

Pakistan's prior record is of limited relevance. The 95 Test was when fixing accusations were most prominent, the 98 drawn series was also badly affected. In 02-03 the top Pakistanis refused to tour (Anwar, Akram, Afridi and Shoaib) to save themselves for the World Cup. The 06-07 tour was similarly undermined by bad preparation and by the fact that Shoaib broke down after 1 Test-winning spell and Umar Gul was injured just before the series.

The relatively close 98 and 03 series were low-scoring affairs. Pakistan's only hope of victory this time is to again keep dismissing 3-4 South Africans in the first 10 overs of every innings, just as they did to Smith, Amla and Kallis 6 years ago.

Impossible, no. Unlikely, yes.

Posted by FarhanSabir on (January 24, 2013, 3:21 GMT)

In SA, the two tests that Pakistan has won, was because of their bowling. The current bowling attack might not be experienced but it has all the ability to test any batting line in the world. I hope the batsmen also support the bowlers in their cause but I do feel that only bowling can win Pakistan this series

Posted by   on (January 24, 2013, 3:02 GMT)

Awesome...Very well done Mr. Saad Shafqat for writing this great piece of work...I am very confident about Pak's Bowling attack, they are definitely going to give tough time to Saf's...My only concern is Batting, it will be really hard to survive against one of the best bowling attacks in the world in the lights of Steyn, Morkel, Philander and Kallis...Eagerly waiting for this series to start, hope both teams will play good and competitive cricket and will give us a great show...Good Luck to Team Pakistan, this is going to be ur real Test, hope you guys will do well

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