South Africa v Pakistan, 3rd ODI, Centurion November 30, 2013

Bettering batting a priority for Pakistan, South Africa


The more things change, the more they stay the same, it is said. The month-long limited-overs series contests between South Africa and Pakistan has given meaning to that hypothesis.

Rewind to October 30, the day this all began with an ODI in Sharjah. South Africa were bowled out for 183, Saeed Ajmal took four wickets as their top and middle order collapsed. Pakistan responded with a handful of contributions from the line-up with Ahmed Shehzad and Misbah-ul-Haq the highest scorers. South Africa's seamers did the bulk of the damage and, astoundingly, they defended the total by one run.

Fast-forward through Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and stop at Centurion. Pakistan were bowled out for 179 with South Africa's quicks ripping through them. Misbah was the major contributor. South Africa reached the target but it was hard work against Pakistan's tweakers. They finished on 181 for 6.

The similarities between the scores, the circumstances and the key protagonists are so eerily obvious that these matches bracket the cold facts both teams must take out of this series. They are, as Hashim Amla suggested before today's clash, "evenly matched" because their attacks are incisive, varied and shrewd. But their line-ups, Misbah-ul-Haq confirmed, are "like each other" in that they similarly unsure, unable to build consistently-threatening partnerships and vulnerable against an aspect of the other's bowling.

Pakistan's weakness is at the top, where they have battled to find an opening combination that works and someone in the top four who can take responsibility. They are guilty of being loose outside the off stump, being undone by the short ball and throwing wickets away with rash shots once they have built a small foundation.

"Whoever gets starts, especially the top four, they need to carry on. One batsman needs to bat through the 50 overs," Misbah stressed. "We only did it once when Ahmed managed it for us in Port Elizabeth. There is still a lot of work needed from the top order to contribute more. We need some consistency from everyone. If you play only one innings out of five, that won't help the team."

Nasir Jamshed and Mohammad Hafeez are obvious concerns but even Ahmed Shehzad has to learn consistency. Sohaib Maqsood seems to have the right temperament and with experience could become a go-to man.

Misbah himself continues to perform reliably and indicated that even though he may not visit South Africa again, with the next tour scheduled for 2018, he still has a good few years in international cricket. "At the moment it looks like I won't play in South Africa anymore... But the hunger is still there and I still want to play and enjoy this game."

Deeper in the line-up, things look better for Pakistan, where they have found allrounders in Bilawal Bhatti and Anwar Ali. Misbah praised their comings of age and hoped they could continue to finish innings strongly. "One good thing is that a lot of contributions are coming from the lower middle order. Our bowlers are now scoring runs," he said.

South Africa have the opposite problem. They usually enjoy comfortable starts and now have options in openers with Quinton de Kock in fine form, but lose their way later on, when the middle order is exposed to spin. The likes of JP Duminy and David Miller still have difficulty negotiating the tweakers and that becomes more evident when the pressure is on.

"Their batting is like us, it is also a concern for them," Misbah said. "They really need to settle those problems. If so many batsmen are not making contributions and don't have confidence, that could be a problem for the team.

Chasing remains South Africa's biggest hurdle because it combines their soft underbelly with their reactions to anxiety. Although they won in Centurion, the chase was not without nerves, and AB de Villiers admitted he remains edgy about his team's ability to cross the line when batting second.

"We still didn't chase as well as we wanted to and didn't show a lot of care for our partnerships, but we still got through it," de Villiers said. "I was worried because we are losing wickets. The care factor is something that is lacking. It's just a matter of how we absorb the pressure and how we can turn it around. It's certainly an area we've been working on for a long time but every now and then we just fall out."

South Africa will likely be faced with bigger totals than they have done in the home and away series against Pakistan in their next assignment, against India. De Villiers said they "can't be more prepared" for that challenge, especially because they have been playing against some of the world's best spinners for the last month.

But they still need to be wary of Misbah's words about accountability, as will his own team, which plays Sri Lanka in the UAE. "It's about professionalism," Misbah said. "If I am playing as a batman and score 100 in one game, the next day if the team needs me, I should score 100 again. I shouldn't say I have already done it and someone else has to next time. This is what batsmen are there for. We have to accept that responsibility."

The more things change, the more stay the same, so it's hardly a surprise it took the oldest man across both camps to utter those wise words.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 3, 2013, 23:11 GMT

    Well Said Misbah . You need better batting average players in your ODI format, for bigger tournaments of ODI you cant win just on basis of bowling department its unfair to have such expectations from them. Azhar Ali , fawad alam, khurram manzoor , khalid latif etc have good batting averages and can name more. Azhar Ali and fawad alam were given a run in international career and they have proved their worth masha allah with their batting show and have good international batting averages but they are not in team for unknown reasons similarly khurram manzoor & khalid latif both have good domestic batting averages but were never given a consistent run in international careers and have played very few international matches. If your going to rely on bowlers to win you matches then GOD BLESS YOU.

  • Jawwad on December 1, 2013, 20:52 GMT

    Pakistan team lacks resolve and commitment and therefore will not be able to compete at a higher level unless these issues are addressed. Had India or Australia been up 2-0 they would have showed resolve to go for the whitewash but it was evident Pakistan Team was happy enough with just the series victory. It works for short series but you can't win global tournaments without proper temperament. Example being when Pak made it to WC 2011 semi, there was all praise for the team to have achieved the then unthinkable and the team lost focus thereafter without seeing a bigger picture that the unthinkable should have been the WC victory itself. Thanks Firdose for the lovely write up!

  • Nasser on December 1, 2013, 15:20 GMT

    Indian teams fail abroad. Their batting although stronger than a year ago will still struggle as they cannot play short-pitched bowling.

  • Sachit on December 1, 2013, 14:33 GMT

    South Africa can't just trust on their luck and expectations on faltering youngsters to perform when they are going to play against India in coming few days. If selectors don't have quick fixes to their problems then it's time for them to look back to their proven lion and warrior Neil McKenzie and Ashwell Prince. Both of them have great experience at top level and also great temperament to handle Indian spin challenge. Moreover both of them are in great touch as per their last few first class scores. Inclusion of Miller, Davids, Peterson and du Plessis may not just help if they are not in form and also don't know how to tackle spin.

  • Gareth on December 1, 2013, 8:53 GMT

    As I said elsewhere: " The top 20 non-retired batsmen by career Franchise-only LO average (min 10 innings): De Villiers, Ingram, Du Plessis, McLaren, McKenzie, Rudolph, Morne Van Wyk, Levi, Elgar, Rossouw, Duminy, Reeza Hendricks, Kemp, Cook, Hashim Amla, Bodi, Behardien, Vaughn Van Jaarsveld, Van Zyl, Puttick.

    While I realise averages aren't everything, the fact that you don't see Miller or Davids in this long list should suggest to you something. (Smith and Kallis haven't played enough franchise innings to appear; De Kock has, but I'd say he's a special case) "

    Start by keeping Miller & Davids in T20 where they belong.

  • Dummy4 on December 1, 2013, 8:50 GMT

    i dont think they will change whole lot. This team has done ok in SA and for SL ODI series they will make only 1 or 2 changes in playing 11.

    Nasir will be dropped but hopefully for some one new not our beloved Imran farhat.

    Its in UAE so both afridi and hafeez will make it in squad as spin options required.

    Rest of guys like akmal, ahmed maqsood have done enough ( by Pak standards ) to retail their places.

    Other interesting change will be how to include M Irfan in playing 11. If both bhatti and anwar playing for batting then it will be one of junaid or irfan. otherwise may be anwar ali might be sitting out.

    Need consistency from Ahmed, Umar and Maqsood. Should try new opener. Hafeez should bat down at no 6.

    Any way i think it should be a full stop for Umar Amin, asad, sohail tanvir for some time. rehman is also not needed as you have already 3 spinners.

  • Dummy4 on December 1, 2013, 8:42 GMT

    Pakistan's problem is inconsistency. and also lack of understanding of situation. even yesterday, the way Umar amin, Maqsood & Umar Akmal played, like it was last over of game. Then when you see likes of Rehman and sohail trying to hit 6 with 5 overs remaining and a set batsman on other end is so poor.

    Our youngsters are not taking responsibilities. Mind set of this lot is that 1 score in few innings will be enough for selection. Yesterday's game showed that bench strength ( Selected bench strength ) is not good. So how will player feel competition when you have likes of sohail tanvir, asad, umar amin as replacements. They have to select good players in squad so that playing 11 feel competition and work hard.

    Many of this squad have guaranteed place in playing 11. 1 more issue is hafeez and afridi's problems with bat. They both can not be part of squad as only bowler with ajmal same time. need batting as well.

    Bhatti & anwar gave a bit depth to batting but will take time to judge.

  • Dan on December 1, 2013, 6:30 GMT

    I am concerned about South Africa's weak batting lineup, or is it an under-performing one, compared with India's one day side. How will the team fare in response to the totals potentially set by the likes of Dhawan, Sharma, Kolhi et al? Or will the South African bowlers rip them apart? Hopefully the latter.

  • Sachit on December 1, 2013, 2:49 GMT

    Pakistan whether they win or they lose but their problems are still the same. Except Misbah no one is consistent with the bat. Shehzad and Maqsood showed intent to bat in few of the outings but again consistency is the problem. Hafeez and Afridi are completely out of their batting form. Search is still on for opening partner of Shehzad. Enough of Nasir now. Akmal given keeper slot is again biggest risk. His keeping is par below the level expected for international matches and it's a serious threat. They can't afford to compromise with keeping position just because they need an additional batsman. With Bilawal and Anwar now grabbing allrounder slots and doing decent lower order batting, Pak should really contemplate about having a genuine wicket keeper in the squad. Umar leaking runs, dropping catches, missing stumping chances and fumbling while grabbing the throws from the deep could really hurt Pakistan badly in their upcoming contest against Lanka who look much more balanced as team.

  • Mark on November 30, 2013, 19:23 GMT

    Smith, Amla, Kallis, De Villiers, Duminy, Du Plessis, Miller, Steyn, Morkel, Tsotsobe, Tahir.

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