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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Habeeb Akbar on February 1, 2013, 7:59 GMT

    I am a great fan of Pakistan.On paper there is hardly any comparison between two sides.SA is a superior side in every aspect of game.Except Saeed Ajmal we do not have a proven champion.Yet this is Pakistan , its my belief they can win or At least give a very tough time to any side in world.

  • anas on February 1, 2013, 5:35 GMT

    AB devilliers V/S Mohammed hafeez

  • Wiqar on February 1, 2013, 4:57 GMT

    @ReverseSwingMaster , Lol, you just woke up from a horrible dream I guess; most of SA fans here are quite balanced and SA crowd is the best I have seen in the world; I'd have loved for them to underestimate us but they are not which is worrying..

  • Piyush on February 1, 2013, 4:51 GMT

    no one talking about steyn vs gul, both linchpin of their bowling attack.....experienced, well adapted to all conditions......both can get some runs lower down the order.....and lead the bowling attack

  • Animesh on February 1, 2013, 1:45 GMT

    @Suraj Don In realistic terms, you can't really expect pakistan to snatch a shock series win. On pure figures, south africa has a better bowling attack and batting lineup. Amla and Kallis are class acts, not only in SA but all over the world. Pakistan batting is brittle barring experience players in the middle order. Pakistan need to seriously assess the conditions, and realize that SA is not fazed with their quicks, as they are playing at home. The bowling on the other hand is a bit more equal, with south africa having an edge. I see pakistans spin being rendered useless on SA pitches. I can see Irfan being a monumental flop with his lack of experience, but junaid will surprise as he is not only quick but also accurate. The biggest battle won't be of skill or talent, as both teams possess it in large amounts. The real test is of patience and discipline which SA have, but do Pakistan? That is the real test.

  • Shulz Van on February 1, 2013, 1:18 GMT

    Pakistan has the ability to hand a shock defeat to SA in one of these tests. But I think If everything go as usual than it could be 2-1 to SA. The worst result i fear could be 1-1 but hopefully not. We SAFFERS didn say it would be 3-0. But i ll take it if they deliver.

  • Suraj on January 31, 2013, 23:36 GMT

    dON9 Prediction

    First and foremost I think this will be a classic series with it almost impossible to pick a winner

    On the one hand, you have a South African Team that is hard to get a grasp on with them being Super Human in England followed by being very average for the most in Australia

    Followed by partaking in a farcical series against a New Zealand Team that was the standard of a Kaapstad under 15's girls side

    Going up against a Pakistan side that most are choosing to doubt without realising that they are a very accomplished Team on the rise

    I believe in them, and think there is plenty of improvement in them as well

    Improvement that will be seen here and lead them to a shock series win

    2/1 to Pakistan

  • Suraj on January 31, 2013, 23:29 GMT

    Jacques Kallis has played more matches than any other South African against Pakistan. He's scored 1,472 runs in 15 games at an average of 66.90 against the subcontinent's dark horses, while skipper Graeme Smith is second on that list with 11 matches and 849 runs at an average of 44.68. Younis Khan is Pakistan's leading scorer against South Africa, with nine matches and 750 runs at an average of 46.87. Kallis also has 23 Pakistani scalps in the bag in his 15 matches while Dale Steyn has a staggering 19 in five Tests.