Spectre of Haider haunts Pakistan's fresh start
Match FactsNovember 12, Dubai
Start time 10:00 (6:00 GMT)
The Big Picture
On the eve of a Test series, the air should be thick with anticipation. Instead, Pakistan's desert encounter with South Africa begins under clouds of corruption and death threats. The turmoil would be enough to flatten most sides but Pakistan - be it their players or administrators - can 'compartmentalise' better than any. Out goes Zulqarnain Haider, in comes another Akmal, Adnan this time, and on goes the show.
While the one-day series, which South Africa edged 3-2, turned out to be a classic it's difficult to see Pakistan faring as well in the Tests. It's their first since losing Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, and the replacements don't inspire. Misbah-ul-Haq, whose last Test was the Sydney debacle, has been installed as captain - Pakistan's fourth in a year - and the first item on his lengthy agenda will be justifying his place in the team. Mohammad Sami, a bowler with every talent bar wicket-taking, is also recalled, making this new era look suspiciously like the old. The return of Younis Khan, his first Test in over a year, lends the top-order a veneer of toughness that was absent against England earlier this year, but 534 runs at 25.42 in the 21 ODIs he's played during his Test wilderness, suggest his powers could be on the wane.
South Africa, No. 2 in the world, have India in their sights and a win here would set up their home series against them ideally. In Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel they possess the most potent new-ball pairing in the game but conditions in Dubai - underfoot and overhead - are unlikely to offer much assistance.
Form guide(most recent first)
South Africa: WDWLW
Watch out for...It appeared the sun was setting on Mark Boucher's international career when injury and waning form lost him his place in South Africa's one-day side after the West Indies tour in June. But the wicketkeeper, a famously fierce competitor, is still South Africa's first-choice gloveman in Tests and will bring in a pugnacious intensity both with the bat and behind the stumps. A one-day swansong at the World Cup will surely be on his mind, and a productive performance in this Test series could help in securing that.
Saeed Ajmal's performance in the one-dayers was a disappointment, and he lost his place in the side after taking just two wickets and conceding 113 runs at more than five-an-over. But a recall to partner Abdur Rehman in spin-friendly conditions gives him another chance to impress. Apart from a handful of ODIs and Twenty20s, South Africa have not seen much of him and his canny variations could prove increasingly troublesome for the batsmen as the pitch wears.
South Africa have hinted at the possibility of playing two spinners to suit the likely conditions, and so both Johan Botha and Paul Harris could be included in the line-up for the first Test. Alviro Petersen should return to open and bump Hashim Amla into the middle order, while Mark Boucher takes up the gloves and Ashwell Prince is almost certain to play ahead of JP Duminy.
South Africa (possible): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 Hashim Amla, 5 AB de Villiers, 6 Ashwell Prince, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Johan Botha, 9 Paul Harris, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Morne Morkel
Pakistan's preparations have been struck by the controversy surrounding Zulqarnain Haider's flight and Adnan Akmal - brother to Umar and Kamran - has been hastily called up as a replacement wicketkeeper. Misbah-ul-Haq has suggested that both Abdur Rehman, the left-arm spinner, and Saeed Ajmal, the offspinner, will be part of the starting line-up for the first Test, with Mohammad Sami and Wahab Riaz likely to take up the two seamers spots.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Taufeeq Umar, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Umar Akmal, 7 Adnan Akmal (wk), 8 Abdur Rehman, 9 Wahab Riaz, 10 Mohammad Sami, 11 Saeed Ajmal
Pitch and conditions
The Dubai International Cricket Stadium hosted the last three games of the one-day series, with the same strip used for every match. While a fresh pitch will be used for the Test, it shouldn't hold any surprises for either team. Breakthroughs with the new ball could be vital as there will be plenty of runs available once the shine comes off, although reverse swing and spin could come into play later. Hot and sunny conditions are expected for the full five days, and despite a relatively moderate high of 33 degrees celsius the sapping heat will still be a factor.
Stats and trivia
"We are focusing only on cricket and will play to our strength, which is spin. We hope it's a new beginning at a new Test venue."
Misbah-ul-Haq is hoping the team can leave their off-field controversies behind and get the focus back on their cricket.
"Our focus has shifted to five big Tests ahead of us. We want to be as successful as possible in the format in which we have been successful in the last three years."
Graeme Smith's men will be hoping for a strong performance here ahead of their challenges against India next month.