Pakistan v South Africa, 1st Test, Abu Dhabi, 1st day October 14, 2013

Pakistan ruing lack of third seamer

Mohammad Irfan's temporary exit from the field illuminated the issue of not having a third seaming option, with captain Misbah-ul-Haq having Saeed Ajmal operate at one end in order to rotate his depleted attack

When Mohammad Irfan left the field two balls into his fourth spell, Pakistan were already playing with limited bowling options. With only a pair of specialist seamers and spinners each, without him, Pakistan were down to three bowlers, and when he walked off, it seemed that could cause some problems.

Hashim Amla and JP Duminy were playing fluently, and with barely any turn on a deck that was flattening out, Pakistan seemed to be in for the long haul. They had already shown their reluctance to use Younis Khan's medium-pace when Zulfiqur Babar was brought on as first-change in the 10th over. The left-arm spinner's first spell was placid, as he tossed it up generously and offered some relief from one end.

Despite that, they managed to put the world's top-ranked team in a precarious position using only four bowlers, thanks largely to the efforts of Junaid Khan upfront, and the spinners later on. Junaid opened with a four-over spell and obtained significant movement to make Graeme Smith's stay at the crease uncomfortable. After a four-over break, he returned for another, beating Hashim Amla's bat on occasion, and getting the crucial wicket of Jacques Kallis with what was probably his delivery of the day - one which bent back in and took the inside edge.

But with the older ball, the South Africans found him easier to play, and that may have been where Pakistan missed a third seam-bowling option. Their lack of a pace-bowling all-rounder seems to offset the balance of their team and they will have to rely heavily on the spinners to make up for that.

The early signs suggest they can. Saeed Ajmal's stamina meant he could easily operate from one end all day once he was brought on, and it seemed that would be the case when he came on before lunch. He bowled non-stop from the 22nd over till tea, making it 17 overs on the trot.

Although he was fairly unthreatening in that time, the South Africans treated him with the respect his reputation has earned, and having him as a constant allowed Misbah-ul-Haq to rotate the rest of the bowlers from the other end. That may be the way Ajmal is used in the early exchanges between these two sides, as a slow poison of sorts to create frustration and allow things to happen at the other end before striking himself.

An example of that came when the man stationed in an unconventional position behind square leg for JP Duminy's sweep shot gave Babar his first Test wicket. And then things started to turn for the spinners, with Babar and Ajmal taking advantage. With South Africa at 222 for 8, they could have finished them off for under 250, but it was perhaps the lack of an additional bowler which made it difficult for them to achieve that.

Misbah will probably have to call on Younis at some stage, but will be relieved that Irfan was able to get back on to take the second new ball. The tall man later confirmed it was nothing more than a case of cramp, exacerbated by slight dehydration, and that he felt better after increasing his water intake. He confirmed he would be able to play a part in the rest of the match but predicted he may not be the danger man.

"At the end of the day, the spinners dominated," Irfan said. "Although it is not turning that much, our spinners are still getting something out of it, and will hopefully have more in the second innings."

Pakistan would have thought they were in a similar position of advantage after they bowled South Africa out for 253 in their first innings at the Wanderers in February. That was the first, and only time, in the home summer that South Africa were challenged, and that too in conditions tailor-made for their pace attack. All Pakistan could muster in response was 49 all out, thanks to a Dale Steyn special of 6 for 8 in 8.1 overs.

Nothing as emphatic should be expected tomorrow, given the conditions, but Duminy hinted the seamers are already smarting on behalf of their batsmen and will want to make up for a day which they "definitely" felt they ended "behind" on. "Having the bowling line-up that we do, you've got to back us to do a great job," Duminy said.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rana on October 15, 2013, 11:26 GMT

    Bowling is not a real problem for Pakistan .Pakistan cant afford to play another seamer to replace a Batsman .

  • Sriram on October 15, 2013, 8:48 GMT

    You must be super happy that you hav at least 2 seamsers and a two class spinners, we here in India have NO seamers and so-so spinners!! A bold step by PAK in many many years to blood youngsters to open. Persist with them and dont play ping pong with thier careers. Send them to county cricket for a month and make them play atleast 2-3 county games, then ask about thier performance!

  • Sirio on October 15, 2013, 4:57 GMT

    What will actually happen is that SA will somehow make another 100 - 125 runs and then Pakistan will out by less than 150 making it a follow-on and then they somehow play sensibly in their second inning to post a total of about 200 to SA who will eventually play 4th innings. The innings that SA wanted to avoid. Well done Pakistan.

  • Sirio on October 15, 2013, 4:53 GMT

    SA are smart to open the proceedings in the First test. Hence they will avoid 4th innings which Pakistan will play. The only thing Pakistan can do is to get SA out pretty quick today and hopefully play for next 2days to make 500 plus runs, or at least the lead of 250 - 300. That will make SA innings look like 4th innings. But wait. What am I saying? Pakistan playing 2 days and making 500 Plus runs!! am I kidding? I think I am. I am hallucinating.

  • Muhammad on October 15, 2013, 1:43 GMT

    I can' under sand why people are against Misbah I think a part from series against zimbabwe and south africa Pakistan has done great under his leadership atleast in Tests and moreover I think Asad shafiq deserve more chances he played well against africa in africa infact scored a ton over there why people are asking to drop him

  • Faraz on October 15, 2013, 1:38 GMT

    *clap clap clap* great article. yes we are missing another fast bowler - Wahab should have been in if Gul was unfit but the battling line up is as solid as they come barring Umar Akmal Still all is well, Umar Akmal will get his chance later on...I am hoping Misbah and selector's faith in Azhar Ali pays off as he is the only odd man out for me. the rest of the batting line up for once looks solid. those ruing shehzad etc. probably did not watch the domestic season unfold there are other more deserving players not in the mix, this is the best Misbah eleven barring Wahab Riaz/Umer Gul and we should win the first test if Misbah, Younis and Azhar Ali fire

  • Dummy4 on October 15, 2013, 1:17 GMT

    anwar ali or bilawal bhatti or razzak can be agood allrounders.what is the problemwith the slection comittee,looks like they have their own group of people who they want to keep bringing again,i amsurprised that imran farhat is not there.they shold pick them on performance and performance only.umar amin is a good player but has not done a thing,they are talking about him to replace misbah,let him prove that he is worth.right now he is nowhere.he is just an average.

  • farah on October 14, 2013, 23:48 GMT

    It is good to see SA under pressure but please donot start celebrating just yet, Pakistani batting can be extremely unpredictable even in semi home conditions of UAE. Can we forget the match against Australia in UAE where we were out for around 50 twice.

  • Tariq on October 14, 2013, 21:49 GMT

    Anwar Ali allrounder? avgs 20 in First class has just scored one hundered hahahaha. Ahmed shahzad agressive? look at his ODI strike rate please....... please see the stats and than make comments

  • Dummy4 on October 14, 2013, 21:32 GMT

    Pakistan do not generally have a 3rd seamer while playing in test matches in spin-friendly conditions for the past couple of years, so I don't see the need for this article now. The only thing that has changed is that there was a 5th bowling option over the past couple of years, i.e. Hafeez; now he is no longer there so the two spinners will need to bowl more. That's it. On very flat pitches, where innings become unbearably long, Younis/Azhar etc can be utilised. Due to the lack of a good all-rounder (who bats well) and a wicket-keeper (who bats well), Pakistan has to play with 6 proper batsmen.