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Firdose Moonda in Cape Town
February 12, 2013
One opening batsman, Nasir Jamshed, turned his ankle during a fielding drill. Another, Mohammed Hafeez, had a viral infection that kept him out of the practice match, his only chance to get batting practice ahead of the second Test. And the wicketkeeper, Sarfraz Ahmed, was hit on the nose by a delivery from the team's premier spinner, Saeed Ajmal.
Add that to the two players who were sent home injured, Taufeeq Umar and Haris Sohail, and it is obvious that Pakistan have not had the best time in South Africa. But Misbah-ul-Haq does not seem to mind.
In fact, he was full of good news two days before the Newlands match. Jamshed, he said, was feeling much better and is available to play. Hafeez would be over his illness in time and Sarfraz's nose has got over the shock. "It was just a small thing," Misbah said, dismissively.
The best news though, particularly for neutrals interested in novelty, is that the 7ft 1in quick bowler, Mohammed Irfan could make his debut on Thursday. Always cagey about team selection before a match, Misbah would not confirm it except to say "hopefully," when asked if Irfan was likely to play but all the signs point to it.
Irfan took match figures of 7 for 40 against the Emerging Cape Cobras. His discipline was much sharper than it had been in the first practice game, played against a South African Invitation side in East London, where he was the most expensive bowler in the first innings.
Still, he was the most imposing presence on the field even then and many expected him to play for the first time in Tests at the Wanderers, where the bounce would have been to his liking. "When he wasn't selected to play, we were surprised," Alviro Petersen, South Africa's opening batsman said. "We had done a lot of analysis is on him and he definitely offers something different."
Misbah explained that as much as temptation existed to play Irfan at a venue like the Bullring, it was more important to ensure he is completely ready for a Test match. "He is really improving, his fitness is improving and his second and third spells are getting better," he said. "He is also able to pitch the ball in the right areas more often and is generating good pace, even when pitching the ball up."
Morne Morkel, who is shorter than Irfan but is the only bowler who speaks on a similar scale about the difficulties with height, said before the Wanderers Test that it is more important to get the fuller lengths correct for tall men because that is where they are likeliest to struggle. Should Irfan feature in the Newlands Test, that will be his main challenge.
Even though the bounce in Cape Town is not as steep as in Johannesburg, the physical presence of Irfan alone may give Pakistan a psychological boost which some may argue is much needed. Petersen thinks they are "a little scarred," by what happened to them in the first Test but Misbah dismissed such concerns. "Whenever you come to these conditions, you need to be mentally ready. It's always a challenge, but we must forget what happened in the first Test," he said.
He also indicated that Pakistan will not tinker with their batting line-up to include an extra opener to bat at No.3 and see off the new ball if needed. "Wherever you go in the world, six batsmen and a wicketkeeper have to take responsibility," Misbah said. Everywhere but South Africa, of course, where a seven-man batting line-up is the new strategy.
Misbah is not letting the strengths of the opposition play on his mind too much. He knows that South Africa are the No.1 team in the world and were "far better," than Pakistan in the first Test. All he wants is to see his team perform to their potential, as they have done under his leadership so far.
"We are improving, in terms of batting and in terms of attitude," he said. "I am really confident that these guys can fight back. Whenever we've had tough times, we have been able to come out of it," he said. Newlands may not be as difficult as the Wanderers, but it will still need a stunning effort to beat South Africa where only Australia have managed to since readmission.
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