South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Cape Town February 18, 2013

Pacy Mohammad Irfan stands out

He might not have a bagful of wickets on Test debut, but he showed he was more than an unusually tall curiosity

Whatever the outcome of the third Test between South Africa and Pakistan at Centurion, Misbah-ul-Haq's men can leave knowing they gave a good account of themselves.

At Newlands, Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq posted the highest partnership by an opposition team in South Africa in seven years, Saeed Ajmal took ten wickets in a match to show his ability as the world's best spinner and Pakistan provided South Africa with their first real challenge of the home summer. Besides that, the impact of Mohammad Irfan will have left a lasting impression.

Having watched the seven-footer perform in the ODIs in India, the cricketing public could not wait to see him with red ball in hand. The Wanderers seemed the perfect venue. With a pitch that would offer bounce and carry surely Irfan would be a trump card.

Pakistan held him back. Instead, Rahat Ali made his debut, a disappointing one in which he went wicket-less in 25 fairly expensive overs. Misbah-ul-Haq confirmed there was temptation to play Irfan but that the team management felt he still had some development to do before he could be considered ready.

In the tour match before the first Test, Irfan couldn't keep the runs down. Word from the South African invitation side that played against him was that he was imposing but erratic. Some of them said once they got used to the physical presence they were confronted with, he was not too difficult to get away. Adjusting to the fuller length was an obvious challenge.

But in the practice game after the Wanderers Test, Irfan came into his own. His opposition was a mixture of players from South Africa's second-tier first-class tournament (the provincial domestic competition not the franchise one) but he showed he means business. He was restrictive and incisive with 7 for 40 in the match and speculation was rife that he had earned a Test debut.

Before the Newlands match, Misbah said Irfan had become better in his follow-up spells which had been a specific area of concern. With Rahat failing to make an impact at the Wanderers and Juniad Khan an injury doubt, Irfan was certain to feature and there was much anticipation when his name appeared in the starting XI.

Graeme Smith's decision to field first meant interested parties still had to wait to see Irfan and his first appearance was made with bat in hand. Immediately, he stood out. Next to the fielders he was a giant, next to his own team-mates the same but it seemed he was a gentle one as he tried to slog Robin Peterson in ungainly fashion and was eventually bowled.

His bowling appearance took even longer because he was not given the new ball. His first-innings performance was all but forgotten when Saeed Ajmal started the procession of South African wickets and the spotlight was almost completely off Irfan.

But he grabbed some of it. His first Test wicket was the soft dismissal of AB de Villiers who was caught at mid-on. Irfan did not show child-like glee but responded to his success in a measured, mature fashion, befitting a 30-year-old. The only comedy was his team-mates jumping up to high-five him.

He came into his own as the match went on and was given the new ball in the second innings. South Africa's batsmen all said it was "pretty terrifying," to face him at first. What they also noted was that he was much quicker than they expected and regularly breached the 140kph mark when they thought he was around mid-130s.

Although not a quick bowlers' surface, with no swing on offer and nowhere near the steep bounce that can be expected on South Africa's Highveld. But Irfan have a solid account of himself which Dav Whatmore was happy with, even though there are some things to work on, as there are with many rookies.

His run-up is the biggest one after he overstepped eight times, once for a wicket-taking ball, and was spoken to for running on the pitch. Whatmore dismissed the second of those as being due to "big feet," and overall said Irfran's showing satisfied him. "He tried pretty hard," Whatmore said. "It was his first Test match and the conditions didn't suit him but he showed he has something."

The something will be seen more clearly at Centurion. That is the ground South Africa usually prepare to assist the quicks and where they have recorded innings wins over India and Sri Lanka in the last two seasons. They may think twice about doing that this time around given the threat Irfan could pose. It may give him an opportunity to perform to his full capabilities which South Africa may not like but the cricketing world definitely will.

"He is a hard working cricketer," Mohammad Akram, Pakistan's bowling coach, said. "The only words out of his mouth are "I love bowling," and I think not only Pakistan, but the world will enjoy his bowling." On the evidence of his first Test, it certainly seems that way.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Atif on February 20, 2013, 16:34 GMT

    I firstly ask what change will work.....the change of captain who gave a right succes way to scrambled pakistan and have a enormous hand in making them subcontinents Top ranked team....grow older its time to roll up the sleeves and up the socks and make them even harder to think for win at Centurian...we are not the favourites but sooner this word will stick to us.....

  • Cricket on February 20, 2013, 12:39 GMT

    Waqar is right. Bring WAHAB RIAZ. It will make UMAR GUL look betteR.


  • Cricket on February 20, 2013, 12:29 GMT

    UMAR GUL was always a T20 bowler. He should not have been selelcted in tests at all. Even when Pak lost the two M's (Amir & Asif), Pak should have launched a massive hunt for younger talent in the so many matches that the played against SL, Bangladesh, England in the Asian conditions and also against NZ in NZ and Zimbabe in Zimbabwe. But all the opportunities were squandered in retrying M.Sami, W.Riaz, Sohail Tanvir etc. So finally back to square one.

    Atleast now, get rid of UMAR GUL from Test matches. Don't think too much short-term. Plan long-term. I am sure you will get players better than Gul from Ehsan Adil, Sadaf Hussain, Rahat Ali & Asad Ali. But make sure that a decent opportunity is provided to a player once selected.


  • Abdul Haseeb on February 20, 2013, 10:31 GMT

    PCB should fire Dave Whatmore and J. Fountain as our team has no need foreign coaches instead a foreign Analyst can be hired who could be very effective.

  • A on February 20, 2013, 9:28 GMT

    @priceless1:February 19, 2013, 6:32 GMT): I am aware IND and SL have won test matches in SA, but it was before SA was no:1. I may be wrong but PAK has also won a test match there in the past. But that what it is "PAST". I do not think any one now suggests that IND & SL will beat SA at their home at this time?? My argument is IND has lost all the test matches when playing away in AUS and ENG. IND has also recently lost series at home to ENG. On the other hand PAK has won against ENG last year when ENG was suppose to be no:1 Can IND and SL win in SA at this time??? Not a chance (offcourse there is always an outside chance a team may win against all odds). SA at this time no doubt is the best team by a mile. It's very balanced and just missing a quality spinner.

  • Dummy4 on February 20, 2013, 1:30 GMT

    Firdose, I always love to read your columns. You are always neutral and describe events and people very well. Irfan is impressive right from his first appearance in India and I really felt bad when Pak. chose not to put him in the first test. I am sure he'll do great in Centurion.

  • Stark on February 19, 2013, 22:00 GMT

    @ Amar Mendes

    Pak and Ind were one once, hence the oldest club club in Ind can be used as the oldest in Pak too but why are you concerned?!?!

    The only thing that matters, is the present and the future. Currently, Pak are a top side and especially, at home. Pak may have lost the series against SA in SA but they'll definitely beat them in the UAE later this year and Ajmal has already proved this to be a fact because in the UAE, the pitch turns from day 1 and Rehman will partner him, plus Steyn and co. won't get as much swing or seam movement.

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2013, 20:39 GMT

    Can anyone help, which is the oldest Cricket club in Pakistan?

    Here are some of the oldest clubs of their respective countries!

    The Calcutta (CC&FC) founded in 1792 Singapore Cricket Club Established in 1852 Mombasa Sports Club formed in 1896 The Melbourne Cricket Club founded in 1838 Toronto Cricket Club which was founded in 1827 Phoenix CC is the oldest cricket club in Ireland, founded in 1830 Colombo Cricket Club oldest in the country, having been formed in 1832.

    I know Lahore Gymkhana club was formed in 1st May 1878, but is it the oldest?

  • Saad on February 19, 2013, 20:06 GMT

    PCB should fire What-More? the moment he and the team lands on the Pak soil..i mean common? you and he team lets the Whole Nation Down..Cricket is the only thing left in Pak and you're letting it down with such pathetic and unacceptable displays? CMON

  • Saad on February 19, 2013, 19:51 GMT

    Need to Change 1)HeadCoach 2)Bowling Coach..3)Captain ..4)Vice Captain...5)Keeper.. and every thing will be alright..:)