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January 31, 2013
February 1-5, 2013
Start time 10.30 (0830 GMT)
South Africa have consolidated their No. 1 ranking since claiming the spot against England, and while their series victory over New Zealand was a formality, it showed the hunger and ruthlessness not to let the title slip away as easily as it had from other teams over the last two years.
This series against Pakistan should require them to lift their game again although the visitors have not played a Test for six months. South Africa start as favourites, and rightly so, but there is enough firepower in Pakistan's attack to cause some difficult moments.
It will be down to the batsmen to ensure there are enough runs on the board to make it count. The bounce provided at venues such as the Wanderers will test the back-foot technique of the young and older players alike; for Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali and Nasir Jamshed it is their first experience of South Africa.
Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel pose as a tough a challenge as there is. Swing, seam and bounce. South Africa's Test unit is now very settled, the decision to stick with AB de Villiers as wicketkeeper allowing them added security of a specialist batsman at No. 7. Dean Elgar's hundred against New Zealand means, barring injury, there will be no urge to change in this series.
The match will also be dominated by South Africa marking Smith's 100 Test as captain (99 for his country and one for the World XI). He has not always been a favourite of the fans, although opinions have started to sway in recent months. Winning helps that. It will be a surprise if South Africa do not add another series trophy, but they will have to work for it.
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In the spotlight
Apart from a tricky Test in Brisbane, Vernon Philander has not stopped taking wickets. Only injury stopped him from another likely bagful in the second Test against New Zealand. The only issue for him coming into this game is his lack of bowling over the last couple of weeks, but he has a simple action and simple philosophy, which should mean he could slot straight back into the groove.
Junaid Khan bowled beautifully against India in the one-day series a few weeks ago and if he can transfer that form into red-ball cricket he will be a major threat. An early target will be Graeme Smith, who has a tendency to play across his front pad and was troubled a little by New Zealand's left-armers, and Junaid can test the right handers on both the outside and inside edge. If reverse swing becomes a factor, Junaid will find it.
South Africa will toy with the idea of an all-pace attack, although it backfired on them the last time they went that way, in Brisbane, and much of the grass had been shaved off by Thursday. Pakistan's batsmen have also had problems against left-arm spin in the past, which favours Robin Peterson. The rest of the XI looks as expected, with Philander fully recovered from the hamstring strain that kept him out of the second Test against New Zealand in mid-January.
South Africa: (probable) 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 Faf du Plessis, 7 Dean Elgar, 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Robin Peterson, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Morne Morkel
Pakistan could have two debutants if both Nasir Jamshed and Mohammed Irfan play. Jamshed is a certainty after Taufeeq Umar was ruled out of the tour with a stress fracture of his shin. Temptation to give Irfan his maiden run will be huge but the more than two metre tall bowler may have to wait his turn if Pakistan opt for either Tanvir Ahmed or Rahat Ali.
Pakistan: (probable) 1 Mohammed Hafeez, 2 Nasir Jamshed, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Umar Gul, 9 Saeed Ajmal, 10 Junaid Khan, 11 Mohammed Irfan/Tanvir Ahmed
Pitch and conditions
Having not hosted a Test since November 2011, the Wanderers will be itching to show off its best side. A belter of a strip has been prepared. Afternoon thunder showers are commonplace in Johannesburg in summer and are forecast for every day of the match but they are not likely to interrupt play too severely. The surface changed from green to white-ish in the days leading into the contest and should be typical of the ground.
Stats and trivia
"It has been a bit difficult to separate my preparation from the fanfare of the 100th captaincy but there is a maturity in the group and I expect the team to come out firing."
"This is the biggest challenge we have had for two and half years but it is a good chance for us to show we have improved."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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