Pakistan v South Africa 2013-14 October 12, 2013

South Africa look beyond Ajmal

43

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

  • on October 14, 2013, 2:54 GMT

    Pls some one post probable playing11 of rsa

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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!

  • on October 13, 2013, 8:21 GMT

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

  • 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'.

  • on October 14, 2013, 2:54 GMT

    Pls some one post probable playing11 of rsa

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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!

  • on October 13, 2013, 8:21 GMT

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

  • 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'.

  • ICCexpert.... on October 13, 2013, 7:33 GMT

    Sharjeel Khan, Sohaib Maqsood, Harris Sohail, Usman Salahudin and Umar Akmal, the best batsmen in pakistna rigt now, but non of them in the team, shame on seclectors and Misbah.

  • on October 13, 2013, 5:06 GMT

    Pak team shud be like this. - Ahmed Shahzad deserves a chance. Apart from that - Khurram/Umar Amin (Umar Amin in case Adnan is opening) - Misbah - Younis, - Azhar, - Asad, - Adnan, - Irfan, - Junaid, - Saeed, - Babar

  • on October 13, 2013, 3:55 GMT

    South Africa basically a good against spin when it doesn't turn..which is not really a big deal..

    When it starts turning and a good spin operator is on then they don't know what to do and get swatted/destroyed. Plus RSA still has propensity of crumbling under pressure.

  • on October 13, 2013, 3:32 GMT

    I think this test series will end up as draw. However, Pakistan has a better chance of beating SA in T20 and ODI in the UAE because turning and slow pitches will produce less runs and Pakistan is good in chasing smaller targets.

  • on October 13, 2013, 1:19 GMT

    There is no doubt that Kallis is the best player of spin in the SA team but its no surprise that his name is left out. Amla struggled against Ajmal during the one day series in SA & played one of his worst innings in recent memory. AB is one of the finnest playrs of spin but lucks Kallis ability to reman rock solid during tough sessions. AB is however great at piling on when the top 3 have set a solid platform

  • uSmanali6323 on October 12, 2013, 22:55 GMT

    batting is a big worry for PAK. although they have a good bowling unit but their batting. their bowlers will decide the series especially spinners. i can't understand their selection policy. what was wrong with Taufeeq Umar n where is Fawad Alam. select fawad as a specialist batsman to bat at no. 7-8 in ODIs n T20 n keep him away from Tests. shame on selectors. he can strengthen ur middle order n Taufeeq brings experience n i think at this time after Misbah, he is the batsman who can give u a chance to play at least 5 days otherwise Steyn will give u the result after his 10 overs. i don't know about Yousuf's fitness. if he is fit then he should have been there especially for this series. atleast give him a chance to play his farewell series. show some respect for ur legends

  • Flasharry on October 12, 2013, 22:14 GMT

    just a quick question to JB633 - why do you end with "to put SA in their place" face it mate - SA are the best test side in the world, so while you try to unpick them, and aren't particularly complimentary, you end with a "grumpy" comment which effectively says SA will win --- because that is the only way they will be put in their place. Hang in there - hope it is a competitive series rather than a one sided series - you may have guessed - I'm for the saffers whitewashing Pakistan

  • on October 12, 2013, 22:00 GMT

    Young or old, Ajmal is the best spinner on the planet. He can't do much in the UAE because of the dead pitches. But try playing him on livelier surfaces. Syed Sahab will crucify u there in a matter of seconds.

  • ilililililililililililililx on October 12, 2013, 21:44 GMT

    Zulfiqar Babar will only be a threat if he uses the crease more. He only bowls from wide of the crease but to confuse the batsmen he needs to bowl most in the middle, some to either side. Sohail Harris is missing from the squad as is U. Akmal Also need a proper opener not a make shift one.

  • mattandy on October 12, 2013, 20:13 GMT

    @Posted by Imsrk on (October 12, 2013, 16:51 GMT), Mr 49ers. We will try to change your team names to either 29ers or 39ers this time and forget about winning on a rank turner. We are the best against spinners of mediocre quality. Yes, Ajmal was good in his prime and he is getting old now and don't have the drive. He bowles a lot of bad balls to get wacked.

  • on October 12, 2013, 19:41 GMT

    Neither of the teams are favorite. While SA has not lost a test series since 2006 and are on top, Pakistan, though battling the batting problem have the advantage of the best spinner in the world along wth some other promising bowlers plus home advantage (UAE is like home). It is going to be competitive.

  • jb633 on October 12, 2013, 19:31 GMT

    Pakistan really should make the same tracks they did against England. The biggest worry for Pakistan is surely their batting and I could see their lineup losing even if they produce flat tracks. Often their batsmen produce their own downfall regardless of what sort of wicket they are playing on. If they produce a bunsen they become favourites IMO. For one SA simply have no good spinners and I would back even this inexperienced attack to counter whatever spinners SA will use. On the other hand despite all they hype SA are not briliant players of spin and I expect Smith, Peterson, Duminy and their lower order to succomb to the turning ball. The big crux for me will be who gets the better from the Pak spinners and AB, Amla and Kallis. At the end of the day no batsmen likes facing the ball turning square with men round the bat and if Pak can somehow scrape scores of 300 they have a huge chance. I am really hoping Pakistan win this and put SA in their place.

  • mzm149 on October 12, 2013, 18:38 GMT

    While discussing role of spinners, we can't ignore importance of Junaid Khan. He has better record on slow pitches of UAE, Sri Lanka and India. He will definitely pose challenge early on if given solid support from the other end. Pakistan should open the bowling with Junaid and Babar if they are going with three spinners. If they have to select a second pacer, that should definitely be Irfan instead of Rahat. Our batting will have to show solid performance to give these bowlers something to work with. In practice games, most of Pakistani batsmen played well. I am pretty sure they will continue their good form in the series as well. Best of luck to both the teams. Hoping to see a result in the series instead of a draw.

  • on October 12, 2013, 18:05 GMT

    No hafeez good news, no taufeeq bad news. Trying to make spin wickets may end on dead pitches, bad news. Early morning dew factor, so toss not important losing or winning equal prospects. real difference is the batting....get the middle order of south africa and grab the match otherwise bowl n bowl n bowl....

  • BILAL_IMRAN_KHAN_FAN on October 12, 2013, 17:27 GMT

    Over confidence of south africans against ajmal may cost them in the opening test match. In trying to overcome the spinners (ajmal and zulfiqar babar), their best players of spin will lose wickets against junaid khan, who is also a good bowler on pitches favorable for batting and/or spin. On the other hand Pakistan's fragile batting line will also give surprises by failing to chase minimum possible targets or by tail enders scoring more than the regular batsmen.

  • warneneverchuck on October 12, 2013, 16:51 GMT

    I think pakistan can win if they produce spinning tracks. They have a chance if they do so bcoz they have quality spinners and SA has ordinary spinners. Steyn effect can be nullified on spinning tracks though he is greatest

  • lukiboy on October 12, 2013, 16:40 GMT

    Remember that SA haven't lost an away test series since 2006, that includes multiple Asia tours, so all of thoose predicting a Pakistan win, remember that. Plus the SA team is stronger then ever and Pakistan are battling at the moment so where this whole 'Pakistan will crush SA' is coming from, it is not a place of logic.

  • Stark62 on October 12, 2013, 16:29 GMT

    Ajmal will be fine and he will end up, as the second leading wicket taker in the series (behind Zulfiqar) but the problem for me, is the batting line up.

    The batting line up hasn't changed one iota, since the defeat to Zimb and that played against Eng, which was rolled over for 99 runs in the third Test.

    I don't think will go past 250-280 but then again, I don't see Pak posting more than 250!!

  • Jda123 on October 12, 2013, 16:11 GMT

    Babar was being hit by WI... Yes it was T20 but he will be punished by SA.

    Rehman/Ajmal

  • on October 12, 2013, 15:58 GMT

    Zulfiqar Babar should be given a chance instead of Abdur Rehman as Babar has better first class average of 20 with 45 strike rate (as opposed to Abdur Rehman's 25 average and 59 strike rate)

  • SamRoy on October 12, 2013, 15:53 GMT

    @2nd_Slip If the wicket is a square-turner SA have a very good chance of losing. The main reason is that SA doesn't have even a single really good spinner in their ranks whereas Pakistan have 3 (one of the them is a great bowler). Secondly, even though AB, Amla and Kallis are great players of spin the rest of the batsman aren't all that good against spin (especially Duminy and Du Plessis). Remember, Eden Gardens Test vs India in 2010. India had Harbhajan who was no where near his best and Ojha who had just come into the side and they still beat SA on a turner. India scored some 600-odd and batted just once.

  • BustIPL on October 12, 2013, 15:51 GMT

    SA are right to look beyond ajmal as there is zulfiqar babar and also pakistan batting which did not look as fragile as it looked in zim series. If pakistan keep scoring like this then spinners will do the job. Ajmal is more and more experienced now and may be difficult to face this time around.

  • dirtydozen on October 12, 2013, 15:42 GMT

    even now south africa would be heavily depended on kallis. when sa toured to Australia last year, Kallis was injured in the 2nd test. But despite an injury he played the next test as a batsman. And apart elgar,duminy and rossouw in the recent A tour against india, they didn't have any players averaging more than 40. they won the A series against india because of their bowlers who had considerable international experience and the pitches. This will be a true test for philander as he has never played in asia.

  • asithaSL on October 12, 2013, 15:42 GMT

    SA llnt going to handle Ajmal this time.,it's time for Ajmal to get his pride back. If Pakistan show some rich batting performance, they have very good chance to give a very good fight against world best test team. Hafeez should be in the team even as a spinner, coz it's not a fast track, He could be handy in UAE.

  • 2nd_Slip on October 12, 2013, 14:50 GMT

    I think the SA batting line up is strong enough to handle any bowling attack in test cricket at the moment, so there is no need to worry about Ajmal and co. The one thing that they should be worried about is how to remove Yunis Khan and Misbah on these familiar flat tracks because if they get stuck in and score big Pakistan are likely to avoid defeat.

  • on October 12, 2013, 14:49 GMT

    Ajmal was not as good as he is now! This one is totally changed, creates pressure much more! So brace yourselves, Spin trio is going to destroy SA :)

  • PureProteas49 on October 12, 2013, 14:22 GMT

    @Mohammad Waqas, You guys keep on saying that, yes you have a decent bowling unit but have you forgotten that you need to bat as well and that's where your true weakness lies, so keep on chirping, Proteas 1-0

  • SyedAreYouDumb on October 12, 2013, 14:10 GMT

    Well back then, Ajmal was not as good as he is now that's for sure. Ajmal has ripped through teams that are supposed to be best against spin, I.e. Bangladesh and India in the last 2 years so SA have to be on top of their game but I expect Ajmal and Rehman to have a say in all the tests.

  • on October 12, 2013, 14:09 GMT

    The word-game, Smith & company playing cannot stop SA to be ripped apart on this series.

  • Cricket_Man on October 12, 2013, 14:04 GMT

    I would love to see Ajmal and Babar bowl in tandem. Abdur Rehman is an excellent bowler and was a great foil for Ajmal when England toured the UAE and would be unlucky to miss out . But Babar just looks a bit more threatening and wicket taking. Babar is hungry to make his debut and could be the x-factor Pakistan is looking for, plus he would create some sort of a doubt in the opposing batsmen because they have never faced him which may take off their focus from Ajmal too.

  • Jadejafan on October 12, 2013, 13:59 GMT

    Yes Pakistan will rip through South Africa but if its flat then no chance.

  • SaadRocx on October 12, 2013, 13:35 GMT

    Zulfiqar Babar if selected will rip through all the top and middle order of South Africa...Mark my words...

  • on October 12, 2013, 13:31 GMT

    I really hope pakistan put up a fighter.

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  • on October 12, 2013, 13:31 GMT

    I really hope pakistan put up a fighter.

  • SaadRocx on October 12, 2013, 13:35 GMT

    Zulfiqar Babar if selected will rip through all the top and middle order of South Africa...Mark my words...

  • Jadejafan on October 12, 2013, 13:59 GMT

    Yes Pakistan will rip through South Africa but if its flat then no chance.

  • Cricket_Man on October 12, 2013, 14:04 GMT

    I would love to see Ajmal and Babar bowl in tandem. Abdur Rehman is an excellent bowler and was a great foil for Ajmal when England toured the UAE and would be unlucky to miss out . But Babar just looks a bit more threatening and wicket taking. Babar is hungry to make his debut and could be the x-factor Pakistan is looking for, plus he would create some sort of a doubt in the opposing batsmen because they have never faced him which may take off their focus from Ajmal too.

  • on October 12, 2013, 14:09 GMT

    The word-game, Smith & company playing cannot stop SA to be ripped apart on this series.

  • SyedAreYouDumb on October 12, 2013, 14:10 GMT

    Well back then, Ajmal was not as good as he is now that's for sure. Ajmal has ripped through teams that are supposed to be best against spin, I.e. Bangladesh and India in the last 2 years so SA have to be on top of their game but I expect Ajmal and Rehman to have a say in all the tests.

  • PureProteas49 on October 12, 2013, 14:22 GMT

    @Mohammad Waqas, You guys keep on saying that, yes you have a decent bowling unit but have you forgotten that you need to bat as well and that's where your true weakness lies, so keep on chirping, Proteas 1-0

  • on October 12, 2013, 14:49 GMT

    Ajmal was not as good as he is now! This one is totally changed, creates pressure much more! So brace yourselves, Spin trio is going to destroy SA :)

  • 2nd_Slip on October 12, 2013, 14:50 GMT

    I think the SA batting line up is strong enough to handle any bowling attack in test cricket at the moment, so there is no need to worry about Ajmal and co. The one thing that they should be worried about is how to remove Yunis Khan and Misbah on these familiar flat tracks because if they get stuck in and score big Pakistan are likely to avoid defeat.

  • asithaSL on October 12, 2013, 15:42 GMT

    SA llnt going to handle Ajmal this time.,it's time for Ajmal to get his pride back. If Pakistan show some rich batting performance, they have very good chance to give a very good fight against world best test team. Hafeez should be in the team even as a spinner, coz it's not a fast track, He could be handy in UAE.