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South Africa are becoming fearsome on their home patch and Pakistan have just over a week to come up with a method to make the series a contest
Firdose Moonda at the Wanderers
February 4, 2013
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Pakistan have ten days and a two-day match to revive themselves ahead of their next bout with South Africa. They will play a Western Province Invitation XI at the Vineyard Cricket Club next Monday and Tuesday to get game time and will look at plans to counter the new ball specifically in the training sessions before the Cape Town Test.
After becoming the third team in 14 months to be bowled out for less than fifty in South Africa, Pakistan "took the emotion out," of what happened, according to their coach Dav Whatmore, and "tried to understand the facts." What they have surmised is that South Africa's potent new-ball attack can be as unplayable as they look, especially when conditions are in their favour and Pakistan need to find a way to counterattack.
"It's really important to negotiate the new ball," Misbah-ul-Haq said afterwards. "We need to concentrate on how to tackle outswing with the new ball. If you look at this match, the way Dale Steyn bowled was the turning point, the line that he bowled and the way he swung the ball. For a team from Asia, it a very difficult to deal with that kind of thing."
The batsmen's ability to adjust was always expected to be the biggest challenge Pakistan would face on the first trip to South Africa in five years. While many would argue that most batting line-ups around the world would have been equally blown away by South Africa's bowling performance, there are some who will question Pakistan's preparation.
Ramiz Raja is one of them. In his analysis with ESPNcricinfo, he was critical of the team's build-up, said they should have arrived in the country weeks earlier and asked for more than one warm-up match before the Test series in order to acclimatise.
That cannot be changed but what Pakistan can do is use the substantial amount of time between matches to fully cook what was perhaps a little raw when they arrived and rectify the situation somewhat. The Western Province bowlers will not be of the quality of the South African attack but the match will provide Pakistan with an opportunity to play in local conditions and, although it is not a first-class match, in fairly competitive situations instead of endless nets.
They will also take heart from their second attempt at the Wanderers as a sign that they are settling in. Three players, Nasir Jamshed, Asad Shafiq and Misbah himself, had some measure of the conditions. They showed a little more certainty outside the offstump and more discretion with their aggressive intent.
It showed them what they need to do to overcome South Africa. "We had an improved performance with the batting in the second innings," Misbah said. "When you go there and hang in, it gives you a little bit of confidence. It's not that we can't do it. Everybody has learnt a lesson. It's a good batting unit so now it's about applying yourself and getting starts."
With Pakistan's batting the focus, their strong bowling performance on the first day has just about been forgotten about. But Misbah is mindful that the attack too, has work to do. "Against such a quality batting line up we need to improve day by day because they are not going to give you anything," he said.
Pakistan's reliance on spin could also help to even things out for the second Test. Although Cape Town is not exactly the sub-continent, it does take a bit of turn. Graeme Smith said: "From a style factor, of using majority spinners and seamers in short bursts, it will suit them better than it did here."
While Newlands could be a leveller in some respects, it is also the ground that South Africa call their fortress. They last lost 11 Test matches ago in 2006, against Australia. It is not a thought that will leave Misbah feeling very comfortable, especially as he acknowledged that he does not need his mission to become any more difficult. "They are the No.1 side world, it's not easy and everybody knows that. We have to improve and we have to play well," he said.
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