Pakistan v South Africa, 1st Test, Abu Dhabi, 4th day October 17, 2013

Pakistan of Abu Dhabi v Pakistan of Harare

Self-belief, brave selection and an aggressive mindset helped Pakistan bounce back from a loss to Zimbabwe to beating the No. 1 Test team comprehensively

There is supposed to be some kind of certainty in covering the teams at the top and bottom of the Test rankings. You have a fair idea of who is expected to win and who is expected to lose. In the last month, that assumption has been twisted out of shape and it's all because of Pakistan.

It was barely believable that they lost to Zimbabwe in Harare and almost equally surprising that they dominated South Africa to earn such a comfortable win in Abu Dhabi. Misbah-ul-Haq put it down to conditions but there's much more to Pakistan's performance than just the comfort of a flat track.

For a start, the pitch at Harare Sports Club would be flattered to be classed under the bowler-friendly category. Although conducive to quicks in the morning, especially on the first and second days, it's closer to the harmless Natal green snake than the mamba it has been made out to be.

Pakistan's defeat was a result of carrying an unsuccessful opening pair, who were separated all too easily, having their younger batsmen frustrated by an inability to score runs through disciplined if not exactly scary seamers and three batsmen, Tino Mawoyo, Hamilton Masakadza and Brendan Taylor, who have developed as players of spin and have the temperament to bat out tough periods.

Those who were at HSC may well say Zimbabwe won because they were the more determined side, or in clichéd, cricket-speak, the side which 'wanted it more.' And the same could be applied to describe the way Pakistan performed at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium.

They went into the game confident of their ability in the UAE. The insecurity of an unfamiliar surface was absent and so was their biggest weakness. Dropping Mohammad Hafeez robbed Pakistan of experience and an additional bowler, but it appears the bravest, and perhaps even the best decision, the administrators have made.

Hafeez's awareness of the off stump may have been better in these conditions but his form against top-class bowlers has been wanting and benching in him in favour of players with a more sound technique to man the opening slot was the right decision.

That does not mean Khurram Manzoor or Shan Masood are the future. Not yet. They were both dismissed in Hafeez-esque ways in the second innings but they showed promise. They have a balance between patience and intent that saw Pakistan score at a rate between three and four runs an over, while giving them a base to build from and allowing the middle-order to bat without the pressure of survival is what set Pakistan up for victory.

The quality of Pakistan's innings was aided by a confused performance from their opposition, who misunderstood the length required of them. But it was also spurred on by a more aggressive mindset from Pakistan. Everyone from Manzoor to Adnan Akmal seemed to understand they could score runs. In Zimbabwe and in South Africa earlier this year, Pakistan played as though they thought they could not.

Since 2010, Pakistan have not lost in the UAE. It is not their home but they have come to think of themselves as having ownership here. They allowed themselves to drive Dale Steyn through the offside when he ventured too wide or pulled Morne Morkel if he dropped it short.

It is also on these surfaces where they know their ability against spin can come to the fore, be it while bowling or batting. South Africa's spin department for this Test was weak and Pakistan took full advantage. While Robin Peterson offered them too much flight and bowled too many full tosses, the South African middle order were easy targets for Saeed Ajmal and Zulfiqur Babar.

South Africa are not bunnies against spin. They have decent records against the likes of Graeme Swann and even Ajmal from the last tour. But just as they have improved in their footwork and ability to read a turning ball, Ajmal has become more cunning. Faf du Plessis and most of the tail were troubled by him and because he can bowl all day, Pakistan used him in that capacity.

Though, Pakistan did not rely solely on Ajmal. Babar was a more than adequate back-up and the two seamers were exceptional. Mohammad Irfan has worked on his stamina and can bowl longer spells without the fear of breaking down. Junaid Khan was described by Zimbabwe's players - who will be quietly chuckling to themselves that they are now the yardstick - as the most improved bowler from the Pakistan of two years ago. He is dangerous with both the new and old balls and creates problems with his angle.

With all of these elements working together, Pakistan put on an all-round performance they can be proud of. They were committed in the field as well, with Irfan showcasing many inelegant but effective methods of saving runs. This was the performance of a team who had something to prove, against one who may have felt their long unbeaten record on the road meant they had already shown what they are capable of.

It is not like South Africa to take things for granted but with minimal preparation and a long absence from Test cricket, they still declared themselves ready to play, from mid-way through the warm-up match when some of their players said they would be able to walk into a Test match, "tomorrow." Pakistan might have sensed that as over-confidence and they pounced on it.

The importance of this result for Pakistan and their personnel was highlighted merely by watching Dav Whamore's reaction. When Misbah launched Peterson for six, Whatmore was out of his seat almost before the ball had landed on the other side of the boundary and was on his way to shake hands with the South African support staff.

He waited on the sidelines for Misbah, to whom he offered no outstretched hand. The pair were couched in a bear hug which said more than any words could. They were joined in relief and joy, knowing some part of the job is done but there is still more to do. Just a few weeks ago, they were united in embarrassment following the loss to Zimbabwe.

Is this the same team who were humiliated in Harare? Some parts of it are and the parts that are not appear improved, infused with optimism and in touch with what they need to do to win.

'Pakistan will get stronger after win' - Waqar Younis

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Android on October 20, 2013, 10:05 GMT

    I think Asad Shafiq 50 in the first innings was much more classy than Shan 75.

  • Dummy4 on October 20, 2013, 6:16 GMT

    FirDose You are really a favourite writer of mine since am reading your articles, but this piece really pushed me to write something to appreciate and acknowledge, what a fine piece , i will keep it for long time.I love your critisism, and really if the team can read it , they will benefit out of the advice you ponder ,again i loved it

  • Faisal on October 19, 2013, 15:26 GMT

    A well-written piece indeed. Putting things in perspective though, lets not get over-enthusiastic. Pakistan selectors still have to take more "brave decisions". One is getting rid of Azhar Ali. Its too early to say much about Shan Masood, but honestly, he didn't look too impressive. Basically, if we compare SA's performance with England in UAE, we'll find that while England had a good spin attack, the failed because of their batsmen. It is the reverse in the case of SA; their batsmen are not as clueless against spin as the Englishmen, but they have a poor spin attack, without which it may not be possible to succeed in Sub-continent and the UAE.

  • James on October 19, 2013, 1:42 GMT

    I agree with ZFCOUTKAST. South Africa are the No.1 side by default, not necessarily by skill and dominance. They are the only side in the past 10 years who haven't regressed or lost good players, they have maintained their status while everyone else crashed around them. They are definitely going to have a tough time in a few years time. India got through their transition pretty easily and we are struggling in Aussie but i think SA will fall in between that spectrum.

  • Dummy4 on October 18, 2013, 20:03 GMT

    Actually graeme smith was arrogant & over confident as he thought he can easily beat pakistan with ease. he assumed pakistan a lowly rated team that lost to zimbabwe and south africa are the no.1 team. he had immense faith with his 3 fast bowlers so he didnt cared to select a quality spinner(which they dont have).

    In my view the difference between the two teams was pakistan captain misbah. misbah was the inform batsman in all forms of the game with good runs in 2013 while the same smith does not have. Besides arrogance he takes catches that hit the ground and does not walk after edging, bad reputation for the game as he's a captain of an international team

  • Syed on October 18, 2013, 13:21 GMT

    I guess Shan Masood is not better than Hafeez and he is certainly not the future as his maiden fifty consisted of mainly edges and snicks even on such relatively slow wicket. My assessment will be proved right when he will play on slight lively wicket. I think Pak should concentrate on Shahzad and merit but not nepotism and regionalism.

  • R on October 18, 2013, 11:44 GMT

    The SAF team is over rated in sub continent conditions. Apart from Steyn, none of the bowlers is threatening enough. Morkel simply doesn't have the heart to bowl in hot conditions on flat tracks. He is dangerous only on pitches like Perth, Jo'burg, Auckland, Leeds. As good as harmless on flat beds like UAE, Lahore, Ahmedabad. Philander needs too much help from the conditions as he relies more on cut and seam. Sorry, but not available in the Subcontinent. He struggled even in England last year. Perhaps Kyle Abbot or Marchant de Lange would be better. Finally, Faf du Plessis seems to have lost his magic. David Miller may be better. He showed good technique in the IPL. SAF can also consider Roelof van der Merwe instead of Peterson. All said and done, expect a good contest in the 2nd Test. SAF will be hurting and Pak will be out trying to prove that their performance was not a flash in the pan.

  • Dummy4 on October 18, 2013, 11:15 GMT

    "Junaid Khan was described by Zimbabwe's players - who will be quietly chuckling to themselves that they are now the yardstick - as the most improved bowler from the Pakistan of two years ago" Brilliant!

  • liaqat on October 18, 2013, 10:48 GMT

    Great read,

    What happened in Zimbabwe is simply for me , complacency mixed with some arrogance that we will beat Zimbabwe by simply showing up,

    But that didn't happen and Zim showed up and showed up well

  • mainul on October 18, 2013, 10:29 GMT

    Pakistan batting will surely suffer in second test. Masood, Azhar and Shafiq are the weak links. They are not competent and skill enough to face Stein and Philander in full mode. Pakistan must go back to Fawad Alam, Haris Sohail, Shoib Maqsood today or tomorrow. Mind my words.