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Pakistan's Test return to the UAE brought immediate rewards with a fine victory in Abu Dhabi over the No. 1 team and a performance to match this week can earn them another notable desert scalp
Firdose Moonda in Dubai
October 21, 2013
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Players/Officials: Younis Khan
Series/Tournaments: South Africa tour of United Arab Emirates
Of all the qualities sportsmen are respected for - skills, ruthlessness, temperament - timing is one of the characteristics they take great pride in having. It demonstrates not only an understanding of the right moment to strike but an ability to do so and combines both brain and brawn.
For batsmen, timing is the difference between the silken cover drive that finds the fielder and the one that pierces through the eye of a needle. For bowlers, it is following up four standard deliveries with the slower ball to deceive his target. For Pakistan, it is winning a series to break a streak of mediocrity following their triumph over the then No. 1 side England in early 2012.
Since then, Pakistan have played just nine Tests and won only two. Scheduling may have had something to do with their inconsistent showings but they have an opportunity to turn that around over the next week. Victory over South Africa, be it in the Dubai Test or simply in the series overall, will come at the perfect time for Pakistan cricket, just when questions were starting to mount following their shock defeat against Zimbabwe.
"This is a good time for us to win. There are a lot of people waiting for us to win," Younis Khan said. For most sports teams any time is a good time for victory but for Pakistan now is particularly significant because it will prove their success against England was not a one-off. Following that series, Pakistan lost back-to-back series in Sri Lanka and South Africa, their ability to adapt to conditions away from the UAE was in the spotlight, and there were mushrooming doubts over the personnel they depended on.
Although beating South Africa here will not ease concerns over the first of those it will ease worries that Pakistan's cutting edge had rusted and justify some of their selections. "The last time we played against South Africa in their home and the way they beat us, it hurt," Younis said, using the same emotion South Africa have repeated multiple times after their defeat in Abu Dhabi.
"This is the right time to win against them. During the first match, we said to ourselves that if we win this game by 10 wickets or an innings it will be very nice. And now it is a good time again. If we make it 2-0 it will be very good for us."
In the end, Pakistan won by seven wickets and their coach Dav Whatmore has indicated he won't put all his emphasis on a win in Dubai, because a 1-0 scoreline would be "as good as 2-0," but the players are talking a different language.
Misbah-ul-Haq said he wants a result pitch in Dubai and Younis' talk of 2-0 revealed a similarly attacking mindset. He confirmed Pakistan will employ cautious intent in the quest to overturn a South Africa side that has not lost a series away from home in more than seven years. "We will try out best to make it 2-0. We are thinking positively at the moment. I hope the players take that seriously and if South Africa make mistakes, we take advantage."
An obvious South Africa error in the first Test was the way they bowled in Pakistan's first innings. A lethargic and ineffective showing allowed Pakistan's opening batsmen to record their best partnership since that England series when Mohammad Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar added 114. Younis, though, said it also served as an indication the younger players were developing, something he has made himself personally responsible for overseeing recently.
"Shan Masood is my team-mate in Pakistan at domestic level. Before this series, we had a camp in Karachi and he worked with me. We talked about this series and how we were going to approach this series, especially when playing the spinners," Younis said. "And Khurram Manzoor is also a good young guy. He always plays positive cricket and I told him to keep playing that way. We have some young good players coming in and hopefully they will keep coming in."
Pakistan's choices have also included bringing in left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar, who the South Africans admitted surprised them a little, and the welcome return to full fitness of Mohammad Irfan. With a squad they were confident in, Younis said Pakistan approached this series with renewed enthusiasm and desire. "We were very keen do very well against South Africa, because we knew if we did well, our supporters would be very happy."
Although playing in the UAE does not compare with being at home, Pakistan feel they have established a strong hold here, where there is a significant expatriate community. "The people follow us here and support us here. We miss cricket in Pakistan, we really do, but this is like home situation for us as well," Younis said.
Having not played Tests here since beating England, Pakistan were thrilled to be back. Even team manager Moin Khan said he felt a difference in the energy around the team. "They were pumped up when we started this series. I am looking forward to the same mood of the team for this match. The body language is very positive," he said.
It is the right time for Pakistan to be showing such signs of intent, with a 1-0 lead in a short series and every chance of another big scalp as far as series wins in the UAE go. By the end of this week, they will discover whether the timing of their heightened focus can bring significant rewards.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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