Pakistan v South Africa 2013-14 October 12, 2013

South Africa look beyond Ajmal

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Saeed Ajmal, now widely accepted as the best Test spinner around, was dropped three years ago for the second Test against South Africa in the UAE. After bowling the second most number of overs in the first match and conceding the second most number of runs, Ajmal was benched for the following fixture.

Why, you may wonder, wasn't the person who worked a little less or did a little worse overlooked? Perhaps because it was Ajmal who was expected to give Pakistan an advantage and when he did not, he had to be sacrificed for team balance. Pakistan included another quick for the second Test and relied on Abdur Rehman to be the sole specialist spinner with Mohammad Hafeez backing him up.

For Pakistan it was a tactical decision. For South Africa, it was a massive compliment. "We've had good success against Ajmal in the past and he was even left out of a few matches," Graeme Smith recalled.

Ajmal was also left out of two of the five ODIs, so almost every member of the South African squad who has spoken about the upcoming series has remembered the Ajmal selection.

To them, it seems to be proof that they are not as vulnerable against Pakistan's biggest strength - spin - as most. "We get a bit of a bad rap around playing spin," Smith said. "Even Gary said with his experiences with India, that we are one of the best at playing spin."

The Cullinan-Warne days are long behind South Africa and their record against the most cunning tweakers is impressive. Ajmal has 14 wickets against them in four Tests, at an average of 40.14, significantly higher than his overall average - 26.78. Graeme Swann has 25 wickets against South Africa from six Tests at 38.68 compared to 28.55 over his career.

The perception still remains that South Africans are poor players of spin and in their recent limited-overs series in Sri Lanka, some of the younger batsmen perpetuated that, but their Test team has no such problems. Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers are among the best players of slower bowling in the current game and Misbah-ul-Haq, for one, knows it.

"Saeed will have to be at his best," Misbah admitted. "The South Africans have faced him before and they handled him well. When other teams, like England and Australia came here, they had not faced him that much."

Ajmal will not have the element of newness against South Africa but is still expected to be a major factor in this series - just consider the ten wickets he took in the match in Cape Town earlier in the year on a surface which Smith joked South Africa had made "a spinning wicket for Pakistan". Ajmal could not stop Pakistan from being whitewashed but he fired enough of a warning to make sure South Africa know what to expect come the UAE.

Smith feels his men have prepared adequately for Ajmal and are now applying their minds to the rest of the Pakistan attack. The other spinners in the squad are Abdur Rehman and Zulfiqur Babar and the latter could be Pakistan's secret weapon.

Babar is uncapped but has over a decade of experience in the first-class set-up and he is the man South Africa are doing some homework on. "He is a bit more of an unknown factor. We've got a little bit of footage on him and some of our guys have seen him bowl," Smith said. "Until you've actually played a guy there's always an unknown factor."

And then there is the rest of the attack to consider. With Smith expecting swing and seam in the morning session, because of the humidity, Junaid Khan will be a threat. Misbah also indicated a fully-fit and firing Mohammad Irfan could be important to Pakistan's chances. "After the Zimbabwe series, he went to the academy, worked on his fitness, bowled long spells there, did a lot of training and even lost his weight," he said. "He is in really good shape and that's a good sign for us."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on October 14, 2013, 2:54 GMT

    Pls some one post probable playing11 of rsa

  • dummy4fb on October 13, 2013, 19:12 GMT

    1.Shehzad 2.Khurram 3. Azher Ali 4.Younis Khan 5.Misbah Ul haq 6. Asad Shafiq 7. Adnan Akmal 8. Abdur Rehman 9. Zulfiqar Babar 10.Saeed Ajmal 11. Mohammed Irfan

    Irfan can bring the pace and bounce.

    Umer Amin and Younis Khan can be the medium pacers. Come on man they can bowl as good as Indian quicks like Ishant and Shreesanth lol.

  • dummy4fb on October 13, 2013, 19:03 GMT

    Unbelievable excitement before the match and people say Test cricket is dying.

  • theprotea on October 13, 2013, 17:31 GMT

    Greame "oh Captain my captain" Smith, Hashim "the Silent Assasion" Amla, Jacques "King" Kallis and AB "the destroyer" de Villiers, JP " mr cool" Duminy and Dale " need for speed" Steyn will make the Paki's beg for mercy, can't wait for tommorrow.

  • dummy4fb on October 13, 2013, 16:05 GMT

    Ajmal and Rehman have matured as bowlers since 2010. They have become more attacking and want to take wickets. If the wickets are similar to those on which England played, South Africa will definitely struggle. Before Eng-Pak series, Ian Bell was supposed to be the best batsman of Spin and he could hardly score in the 3 matches so SA team cannot be confident unless they score big in the first test.

  • cricket_p87 on October 13, 2013, 13:43 GMT

    @ mattandy. Rather than pakistani team getting a 39ers tag, focus on your team getting a chokers (or for that matter solidifying their already retained choker's tag)

    "Ajmal was good in his prime and he is getting old now and don't have the drive"

    Hold on, when was he at his prime? I thought he's way better than when SA came to UAE last time. This very same overconfidence led to ENG getting whacked 3 years ago. So watch out! Also, keep in mind 2nd match against SA in recent pakistani tour of SA, Ajmal got 10 wkts so I think he's still at his prime I am not saying Pakistani would whitewash SA, but it would be a good series. Still, I am rooting for 1-0 for PAK or 0-0 draw

  • dummy4fb on October 13, 2013, 10:13 GMT

    Ajmal should deliver in this series in any how ,otherwise he should be kicked out of the team. And should win it for his team whether the pitch will be placid or turner that should not be excuse for a spinner like him , deliver and deliver in nutshells.

  • GermanPlayer on October 13, 2013, 9:10 GMT

    It surprises me to read some of the comments here. Some people are saying that SA don't have good batsmen other than Kallis AB and Amla. Aren't three good batsmen enough for a batting side? especially if they are joined by the likes of Smith, Duplessis and Duminy?

    Talks of AB being a good player only when top three score is also rubbish. Have you all forgotten his 30 odd runs off about 250 deliveries in Australia? That innings proved he can play according to the situation, even though AB has already proved that countless number of times.

    Similarly people are saying Pakistan only has a weak batting lineup and everything else is fine! If it makes the Pakistani fans feel good, then its ok, i can understand. But when was the last time Pak's batting lineup clicked?

    And all the talk of SA bowlers not doing well in Asian conditions is rubbish too. Agreed that they will not be as effective as they are in other conditions. But they are not kids and know how to adapt!

  • espncricinfomobile on October 13, 2013, 8:21 GMT

    The XI should be: Manzoor Shahzad Younus Amin Misbah Asad Adnan Ajmal Babar Junaid Irfan

  • dummy4fb on October 13, 2013, 7:38 GMT

    expecting a surprisingly tough ask for SA. the only factor that could lead Pakistan to a defeat would be the lack of Test temperament and patience in its players specially the batsmen, otherwise there is nothing wrong with this current team. a completely talented and lethal team in all aspects at the moment. Pakistan will not be completely relying on the spinners in this tour, the seamers are also capable of striking. plus the batting line has got new young batsmen and they will be trying to prove their worth so that may give a push to the batting line, also expecting a good game from younis Khan. Remember: You are always a No.1 Team for the 'World minus Pakistan'.

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