South Africa v Pakistan, 1st Test, Johannesburg January 31, 2013

Middle-order heavyweights and tall quicks

ESPNcricinfo looks at four confrontations that could have an important bearing on the outcome of the series

Graeme Smith v Junaid Khan

In the build-up to the series most questions have been about Smith in the build-up to his 100th Test as a captain. His challenge is now to focus on what really matters. Juggling his bowlers is the easier part of his job; with bat in hand he could be in for a testing time. Junaid, the left-arm quick, is one of the emerging fast bowlers in the world and is a style of bowler to have trouble Smith in the past. To be fair, Smith is not the only left hander to find left-arm quicks difficult - the usual angles take some adjusting to. In his Test career, Smith has fallen to left-arm pace in 25 of his 187 innings and his average against them 35.56, considerably lower than his career number of 49.28. A warning to Pakistan though: if Smith reaches a hundred, watch out. South Africa have never lost when he has scored a century.

Jacques Kallis v Younis Khan

Two outstanding middle-order batsmen, but they carry different importance for their team. If Kallis fails there is, more often than not, someone to pick up to the slack for South Africa, but for Pakistan to succeed on this tour the feeling is that Younis will have to be successful. That is not to say all rests on him, but Pakistan's batting line-up needs a leader. Neither player has shown any sign of fading in the latter stages of their careers - both maintain averages over 50 - and perhaps Younis has never quite earned the praise for his achievements that he deserves. However, from some in South Africa there is a belief that is true of Kallis, too.

Robin Peterson v Saeed Ajmal

Some may laugh at the suggestion that this is a contest, after all Peterson is new as the frontline slower bowling option for South Africa while Ajmal would make it into most Test teams in the world. Peterson is best remembered for Brian Lara tearing into him at the Wanderers, Ajmal for his own tearing apart of England. Petersen, from nine Tests, has little over a fifth the wickets that Ajmal from 23 Tests has managed. But South African conditions and roles within teams could even things out. While there will be bounce, there is unlikely to be much turn as the hosts look to negate the doosra, teesra or whatever else Ajmal has up his sleeve. Peterson is not in the side purely as a wicket-taker and he will be expected to do a holding job on occasion but Pakistan's indifferent record against left-arm spin means this could be a big series for him.

Morne Morkel v Mohammad Irfan

What's taller than Morne Morkel? Mohammad Irfan, of course. Morkel's ability to extract bounce, especially on home surfaces, is well-known but in this series there is someone who may do that even more than him. At a towering two metres, Irfan is the already the player most hyped up ahead of the series, with many interested to see what effect his imposing physical presence will have. Although Irfan brings a certain novelty value, it could be his fuller lengths, not his ability to take people's head off that turns this into a contest. Morkel has learnt to adjust to make it more difficult for batsmen to leave him on length and advised Irfan to do the same. For men that tall, pitching the ball up is a tough ask but an important one given the conditions.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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