Spin and heat lessen mismatch
Match factsOctober 14-18
Start time 10.00 am local time (6.00am GMT)
South Africa have shown their dominance at home, blanking opponents in both series last season, and in England and Australia, where they have won on their previous two visits. Their focus will now turn to underlining their superiority on the spin-friendly tracks in the heat of Asia. They get fewer matches in Asia - Vernon Philander, an integral member of the side, is yet to play a Test there - and they haven't quite been as commanding on visits there: South Africa drew against India in 2008 and 2010, and shared the series against Pakistan in the UAE three years ago. Though they were not outclassed in any of those contests, the series win has proved elusive in recent years.
While South Africa are a settled unit, three of their regulars are returning after lengthy breaks: Graeme Smith was out with a foot problem, Jacques Kallis opted to take a break after the IPL and JP Duminy, while he has made limited-overs appearances recently, last played a Test nearly a year ago after being sidelined with an Achilles injury.
Pakistan, in the meantime, have had a humbling year. They were out of their depth in South Africa and only managed a draw in the series in Zimbabwe last month. They are far more in their element in the UAE, where the pitches give their spinners more to work with. The big question mark for Pakistan remains their batting, and whether it has the backbone to keep out a potent South Africa attack. Misbah-ul-Haq has become a master of the firefight after his top-order batsmen keel over, but he'll need more support if Pakistan are to pose a challenge to the No. 1 side in the world.
Form guidePakistan LWLLL (last five matches, most recent first)
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In the spotlight
Pakistan's top order has been a huge problem: in ten Test innings this year, the top three wickets have only had two half-century stands, and there have been 15 partnerships of ten or less. Pakistan have discarded Mohammad Hafeez, and have a couple of uncapped players vying for an opener's spot. The 'established' opener is Khurram Manzoor, only nine-Tests-old himself, and having only returned to the side after a three-year absence in the recent Zimbabwe series.
For over a decade Graeme Smith has been an effective, if not elegant, run-getter for South Africa at the top of the order, shielding his middle-order batsmen from the new ball. He hasn't played much cricket in the lead-up to this series, however, having been out of competitive cricket for over 21 weeks with a foot injury. He didn't get much time in the middle in the practice game either, but he is confident he is ready for the rigours of Test cricket.
There was some concern over Smith's ankle but he is expected to play and has trained a day ahead of the match. South Africa are likely to go in with one frontline spinner in Robin Peterson, and Dean Elgar is set to make way for Duminy.
South Africa: 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 JP Duminy, 7 Faf du Plessis, 8 Robin Peterson, 9 Vernon Philander, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Morne Morkel
Besides the top-order conundrum, Pakistan have to pick the support quick bowler for Junaid Khan - one of Mohammad Irfan or Rahat Ali. The rest of the side is fairly settled.
Pakistan: 1 Shan Masood, 2 Khurram Manzoor, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Adnan Akmal (wk), 8 Abdur Rehman, 9 Saeed Ajmal, 10 Junaid Khan, 11 Mohammad Irfan
Pitch and conditions
Smith expected the pitch to be similar to the one South Africa played on in 2010, when these teams were involved in a high-scoring draw. It is warm in Abu Dhabi, with temperatures likely to be in excess of 30 C over the course of the match. The South African players have been using ice vests to try and get some relief from the heat.
Stats and trivia
- South Africa lead the head-to-head record in Tests against Pakistan 11-3
- Pakistan (23) and South Africa (24) have played the fewest Tests among the top eight countries in the last three years
Quotes"There are a great bunch of boys and I had a good time with them in Zimbabwe. Even though we lost a Test match, overall the performance and the conduct was wonderful. It's good for me to be around them and I know a lot of them - like when Misbah made his debut, I was the captain."
Moin Khan, the Pakistan team manager
"We haven't dwelled on any past experiences. But every time you win away from home you gain an inner strength. That confidence has grown because we know we've been able to compete in all conditions away from home.
Graeme Smith on South Africa's unbeaten record away from home, which has stretched to seven years
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo