Pakistan focus on batting improvement
For a batting line-up that is struggling and just arrived to play a series in what is widely acknowledged one of the toughest places to make runs, Pakistan have an unusual amount of confidence. Mohammad Hafeez, their T20 captain, said their showing on this soil earlier this year will serve as inspiration for the upcoming series.
"We put up a good show in the shorter formats and we believe in this part of the world, we've done reasonably well.," Hafeez said ahead of the team's first practice session at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. Pakistan won the only Twenty20 that was played - the first was a washout - by 95 runs and came back twice in the ODI series to level it at two-all going into the final match, which they lost.
What is perhaps more important than how they competed in that series was how they batted. Hafeez starred with a 51-ball 86 in the T20 to lead the side to victory in that format, while there were fifties from Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi and Imran Farhat. In their two ODI victories of the tour, Pakistan successfully chased the targets at hand.
None of that form was evident in the way they played recently in the UAE. Pakistan could not muster one score above 250 and alarming batting collapses - six for 17 to lose the first ODI by a single run. 3 for 17 upfront to put themselves in no position to win the final ODI. They only mustered 98 in the first T20, and then lost six for 38 in the second. They have left the impression that they will be easy pickings on spicy surfaces, and against South Africa's unforgiving attack.
Dav Whatmore admitted that this is an area of concern. He has emphasised to his charges the need to apply themselves and show greater patience and temperament. "From the depths of victory, we managed to lose games," Whatmore said. "We're painfully aware that we need to keep our heads a little longer and finish matches. They know the theory, we speak about that all the time. They need to understand to take it one ball at a time."
One player who seems to have learned that is Sohaib Maqsood. After debuting against Zimbabwe, he announced himself in the recently concluded series in the UAE as a clean striker who can hit the ball hard and work it around as well. Whatmore celebrated Masqood's coming of age as "one of the best positives," of the last six weeks.
"We've all known that he is potentially a very good player," Whatmore said. "He has had some fitness issues, but anybody who drops 10 kilograms is showing everybody he wants to play. We're all very pleased for him."
Now it will be up to the rest to follow Maqsood's example and display the type of commitment that can help Pakistan rebuild their one-day side and plan for next year's World T20. "The more we practice, the more we can get good combinations before the mega event," Hafeez said.
An opposition like South Africa, who are on an upward curve, will also help Pakistan measure their players development. The teams have clashed 20 times across all formats this year and Hafeez admitted it can get tedious, but said the familiarity can help Pakistan develop a yardstick for their own progress. "When you play too much with each other, sometimes you enjoy and sometimes you are fed up. We are very much ready for this. We're both competitive enough teams to make this a good series."
Pakistan will have the edge on South Africa preparation-wise. They will hold three training session before the first T20 on Wednesday, while South Africa only regroup in Johannesburg on Tuesday and will have a single net. Rain is forecast for match day, but both teams will hope it stays away.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent