Clash of the fast men
On the eve of the first Test between Pakistan and South Africa, Cricinfo provides a statistical preview
Both sides have struggled with their opening batsmen in recent years and both will have another combination taking guard in the middle. In the last 15 Tests, Pakistan have tried eight different pairs (and many more in Tests before that) and will have, in the absence of Imran Farhat and return of Salman Butt, another new one. South Africa have opened with six different pairs in the same number of Tests. Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs are likely to re-unite once again here and Smith thinks it could work. He said, "Herschelle and I had a top start when we began with several 300-plus partnerships. He is experienced and I have been around for a while so I am hopeful we'll do well."
The fast men
Whatever the nature of the wicket, fast bowlers are likely to feature heavily in this battle, as befits two countries traditionally rich in fast bowling talent. Here are the men expected to feature in Karachi.
Mohammad Asif is an anomaly in Pakistan's recent fast-bowling lineage. Where Asif compromises on pace, he more than compensates with intelligence, accuracy, swing and seam, and stamina. After a spell of limited-overs games, he will relish most the longer format of the game in which he is most at home and where he's picked wickets by the bagful.
Makhaya Ntini will be hoping a return to the five-day game can rekindle a fire that has lost its glow recently. His last Test series was against Pakistan, at home, where he picked up 19 wickets in three Tests, including two five-fors and became the third South African bowler to take 300 Test wickets. But the slide started with the World Cup in the Caribbean, since when he's managed 11 wickets in 14 ODIs at 46.54. He fared little better in the Twenty20 format, going at over nine an over.
Umar Gul was impossible to get away during the ICC World Twenty20; bowling at the death he delivered unplayable yorkers while varying his length to good effect. His Test performances improved through 2006, though Pakistan missed him in South Africa last year, when he was out with an ankle injury. He has bulked up, increased his pace and will be looking to consolidate his role as the enforcer in the pace attack in Tests. His yorker at this ground last year to Ramnaresh Sarwan is a classic example of the damage he can cause.
Dale Steyn, on this tour, has a chance his cement his place in the Test side. A quick bowler who has the ability to swing the ball away from the right-hander, Steyn has picked up 178 wickets from 49 first-class matches, including a stint with Warwickshire this season, where he bagged 23 wickets at under 26 runs apiece in seven first-class games. South Africa want him, and Morne Morkel, to take over from Shaun Pollock, a challenge only slightly more arduous than playing on the flat decks in the subcontinent.
Clash of the titans
Given the frailties of both teams' opening combinations, don't be surprised if it boils down to the middle-order.
For Pakistan, the return of Mohammad Yousuf could not have been come at a better time. Inzamam-ul-Haq has been omitted and Yousuf is now expected to fill that considerable hole. His performances against South Africa are not as impressive as his Test record: an aggregate of 269 in six Tests, no centuries and an average just over 24 is a wrong he will be keen to right.
Jacques Kallis' resignation from the vice-captaincy should give him even more time to concentrate on his batting, which spells danger for Pakistan. Nearly 8,500 runs from 107 Tests, Kallis has for long been the of backbone of South Africa's batting. In conditions generally better for batting and stifling for bowlers, Kallis will want to improve his record against Pakistan: a solitary hundred in 11 Tests and an average (42.82), well below his career average (55.09).
Head to head
South Africa enjoy a comfortable upper hand in Tests between the two, winning seven of the 14 they have played. South Africa won 2-1 the last time they played in South Africa but Pakistan won their last series in Pakistan 1-0. If nothing else, a close battle is expected.
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Faras Ghani and Mathew Varghese are editorial assistants with Cricinfo