Teams keep an eye on the future
Unmistakably, change is in the air. Pakistan and South Africa meet at the National Stadium in Karachi tomorrow for the first Test, one eye on the now, one on the future.
South Africa, without any hang-ups, are looking ahead in the one tradition that has served them so richly since their re-admission into cricket, that of pace. Shaun Pollock, even if he does play, may no longer be one of the first names on the team sheet, more so if it is being written in the subcontinent.
Mickey Arthur, South Africa's coach, has been at pains to point out that they are entering "a new era" as far as fast bowling is concerned, though insisting that Pollock has not been shunted out for good. Yet, even if Morne Morkel's fitness is in doubt - though his condition has improved, he is due to undergo a fitness test in the morning - so too is Pollock's inclusion. Understandably, for the choice is not easy: opt for Pollock's batting security or risk the inexperience of Dale Steyn.
Pakistan contemplate more seismic changes. Captain, vice-captain and coach will all perform roles they have never performed before tomorrow, at Test level. Not that Shoaib Malik, Pakistan's 25th Test captain, was letting slip signs of nerves.
"I'm not nervous," Malik said. "It is my first Test as captain but I have played many Tests. I don't think about challenges as such. I just want to do what is good for Pakistan."
Indeed, his deputy's role and performances, may be of equal significance. Salman Butt hasn't played a Test in over a year, his promotion to the post was widely questioned, and though it isn't relevant here, he struggled at the ICC World Twenty20. If he is successful, Pakistan will be laughing for they then have a captain-in-waiting, as well as an opener.
Further down there is more intrigue. Mohammad Yousuf never really went away, but he is back. Graeme Smith, the South African captain had accounted for the eventuality: "We expected him to play. When you come on a tour you expect to play against the best. We have respect for him."
Malik was understandably pleased with the same eventuality and so he should be, for when Pakistan bat, they will be doing so without Inzamam-ul-Haq for only the ninth time in 55 home Tests since 1992. "Cricketers come and go, but Inzamam is a great player and we will have to do with what is available," he said. At least the karma is good, for Inzamam's place is taken by another ul-Haq who made an unexpected impact at a World Cup: Misbah.
But if change is in the air, so too is spin, and on this the contest might hinge. The pitch appears dry, accompanied by whispers of crumble, cracks and rare talk in the Pakistan camp of two spinners. Abdur Rehman, the left-arm spinner, might make his debut, making it the first match since the 2005 Bangalore win that two specialist spinners have played. Rehman will also be the first such specialist to represent Pakistan since Nadeem Khan against India in 1999.
Yet given its rarity - Karachi does often produce egalitarian surfaces with something for everyone - both captains spoke of it as a fait accompli. Smith said, "The wicket is well-prepared and looks dry, the kind of wicket we expect when you come to subcontinent."
Not often is he out-blunted, but Malik hid no punches when asked about the turn in the track. "They have six fast bowlers and one spinner. Should we play to their strengths?"
Danish Kaneria, two short of 200 Test wickets, 26 in five against South Africa and 26 in five in Karachi is sure to headline one of the days, as Smith acknowledged: "He is a big challenge on the subcontinent." But keen minds will remember that Pakistan has a funny way of succumbing to the category known as left-arm orthodox in which light, Paul Harris might be headlining more often than anyone thinks.
"He's [Harris] going to play an important role," said Smith. "He's quite a confident guy, up for taking responsibility which is always encouraging. He is tall, gets good bounce and is consistent."
That is nearly that. To the ingredients of new eras, new names and spin, must be added the weather, hopefully combining to produce a corker. Smith said that temperatures in the high thirties would play a role at some stage.
"It's very hot and there isn't much of a breeze in the middle, but we have to manage that as best we can."
Pakistan (probable): 1 Salman Butt, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Shoaib Malik (capt), 6 Misbah-ul-Haq, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Abdur Rehman, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Danish Kaneria, 11 Mohammad Asif
South Africa (probable): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Herschelle Gibbs, 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 Hashim Amla, 5 Ashwell Prince, 6 AB de Villiers, 7 Mark Boucher, 8 Andre Nel, 9 Makhaya Ntini, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Paul Harris
Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo