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January 30, 2013
South Africa's only injury concern ahead of the first Test against Pakistan, Robin Peterson, has been declared fit and available for selection. Peterson tore the webbing between his third and little finger on his right hand during the first ODI against New Zealand 11 days ago and received stitches for the cut.
Although it was not his bowling hand that was affected, Peterson was unable to hold a bat or catch and Imran Tahir was added to the Test squad as cover. Peterson's recovery has gone according to plan though and he will remain South Africa's first-choice spinner for the match. Even so, do not be surprised if the hosts are considering fielding an all-pace attack for the first Test against Pakistan.
With a lot of grass left on one of the liveliest surfaces in the country two days before the match, South Africa may see the series opener as a way to lay down a marker, especially as they have part-timers Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar in their ranks. But, they will need to be wary that Pakistan will look to do exactly the same.
The country's biggest stadium has not hosted a Test since November 2011 and it will be the bowlers that are most looking forward to the outing. "For me, it's very special, even just training here and having a run around at the Bullring," Morne Morkel said. "When I came and watched games here as a youngster, it was always special but it's also the sort of wicket that I enjoy bowling on. It suits my game."
While bounce is the feature everyone from Morkel to Saeed Ajmal will look forward to, it's the impact the more than two metre tall Mohammed Irfan can have that is most anticipated. If he plays, Irfan will be the tallest Test cricketer around and Morkel, who is probably the second-tallest, had some advice for the rookie.
"Obviously, his advantage is going to be bounce but to get that fuller length going, especially at the Wanderers is going to be the key," he said. "I find that on the bounce batsmen can leave you on length. The most important thing is to find a way to hit that fuller length consistently and at good pace. Where I have gone wrong is that as soon as I try to get fuller, I just put the ball there instead of still hitting the deck."
Morkel spotted the Australian team making use of some unusual equipment such as a box for their bowlers to stand on to replicate height and practice facing Morkel but he said South Africa's batsmen have done nothing of the sort and have "solid gameplans" even though they, like anyone else, may be intimidated by the sight of Irfan.
"If you speak to any batters around the world, a guy that is two metres tall and the amount of bounce he can get is a scary thing," Morkel said. "It's not about the amount of pace but it's the awkward bounce from quite a fullish length."
Morkel is one of the best executioners of that skill and while the South African batsmen are preparing to face it, he is gearing up to dish it out. Bouncing sub-continental line-ups out of the game is a common tactic of South Africa's when playing at home but Morkel is expecting Pakistan to put up stiff resistance.
He last played against them in late 2010 in a two-Test series in the United Arab Emirates. On lifeless pitches, South Africa were unable to bowl Pakistan out to win the match on both occasions which taught Morkel a little about their staying power. "They've got guys that can attack upfront and have guys in the middle that can bat time as well," he said. "They are not just going to be a team that can be flashy. It's hard work."
"They've got some experience with Younis Khan and Misbah in the middle. They are key guys that we need to target and get out quite early because can bat time." The pair were both not out at the end of the first Test in Dubai and Misbah was undefeated at the end of the second fixture as well.
"They are a dangerous team, they can always counterpunch and fight back. It's going to be important for us not to relax."
The series is expected to contrast starkly with the one South Africa have just played against New Zealand. Both matches were innings victories for South Africa and the series lasted a total of six days. While Morkel enjoyed dominating in that fashion, he prefers a tight contest and expects that to come over the next month.
"When you beat a team in three days, you get extra time to rest but there is nothing better than walking out there for five days and really feeling the blood, sweat and tears and enjoying that moment with the team," he said. "That's Test cricket, that's what you want to play for and what you wish for: for it to be as tough and hard as possible. That brings the team more together as well."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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