South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Cape Town February 12, 2013

Irfan in line for Test debut


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.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2013, 13:30 GMT

    azhar is a greAt batsmen but not in form, younis should bat at number 3 and azhar should at number 4.

  • Julian on February 13, 2013, 11:46 GMT

    @ guduji71 .. LOL .. that sounded more like a prayer than being positive .. This is Smith , Kallis , Steyn ( more recently ) , Robin Peterson and Philanders Home ground ... This is Big Vern backyard .. Bowled Aus out for 49 , New Zealand didn't stand a chance and you praying for a miracle ?

    For cricket sake , I hope it's a tight contest .. I really do .. But the best Pakistan could do is draw this test match ... As for your bowlers , why so much trash talk about Gul .. he looked the more comfortable bowler , economical and looked good .. Your spinners let you down .. Ajmal was abysmal .... I do think you should make space for this lanky dude .. he seems an exciting prospect ... always good to see players like this coming through the ranks in any country .. Exciting stuff ... End of the day .. We love cricket !!!!

    Good Luck Pakistan .. and go SA ... !!!!!

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2013, 11:36 GMT

    Just waiting for the one dayers, i see no chance in Test matches

  • Gudu on February 13, 2013, 11:09 GMT

    I am making a prediction here that Pakistan is going to win this match. It will be a very hard fought win but Pakistan will win this test match in the end. Lets keep your hopes up guys. Be optimistic, this is cricket any thing can happen, all these big guns of SA can stop firing and remember that this team has a habit of "Chocking". I am hopeful and I want yous to be hopeful as well. I hope Misbah and his team will play with unity and give their best. Come on Pakistan.......

  • Cricket on February 13, 2013, 9:52 GMT

    With a FC bowling average of 21, Rahat is an excellent bowler. He can easily become another Philander. But this is not the way to launch a younster. He should be first given some opportunities against some lesser teams. Then before such a tought series he should have been inforrmed that he is going to play against this formidable opposition so he can be mentally prepared. Then there should be some seniors who should be able to guide him, without interfering too much. Also the other bowlers should be good enough to keep the pressure on. But what did we have here.

    Wasim & Waqar were lucky in that respect. They had Imran to guide thme when they were young and raw. Umar Gul cannot take care of himself, leave alone guiding the younsters. Gul also bowls short and wide with the new ball so the batsmen can easily leave all the balls and get thier eyes in and get their feet moving.

    I am sure Junaid , Sadaf & Rahat can form a formidable attack if given time together.


  • Muhammad on February 13, 2013, 8:38 GMT

    Yesterday I had a dream that SA will collapse for Under 150, but then Pak after going well for 103/2, will collapse below 150 to give SA a slender lead and then Sa will win this match. OOPs!!! sorry Pak fans

  • RankPace on February 13, 2013, 8:36 GMT

    Posted by Pakistancricketisscrewed on (February 13, 2013, 7:36 GMT) :-

    I agree with to completely. When the whole world was talking about the worlds tallest man to make debute on a pitch that has a lot of extra bounce and zip, I though Irfan got a perfect platform to launce himself at 145 kmph. But Misbah did not like it. So he chose an additional reinforcement Medium pacer, who wasnt even part of the original squad. I say this becuase it effects the physical prepartaion and the mental state of the person, leave alone match fitness. Through out the match Rahat bowled at 135 kmph. He was immaculate with his line and lengths, but wasnt aggressive himself. That required some aggressive bolwers at the other end. But what did we have, Gul. Though Junaid always shows some fire. But the combination is all messed up. No planning at all. Lack of aggression. If Smith would have enforced the follow on, pakistan would have lost the game by an innings and under 3 days.


  • Aziz on February 13, 2013, 7:36 GMT

    Why on Earth did Irfan not play in the first test!?!? You're going to make a bowler fresh from good form sit out and instead play a POS debutant new to INTERNATIONAL CRICKET let alone test cricket???? Oh my Lord, these Pakistani's have some sort of mutation in their blood that apparently doesn't allow them to have the desire to the PCB and anyone involved in selection, you are PATHETIC!!!!

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2013, 7:30 GMT

    pakistan lacks quality batsmen and experianced bowlers...all hands up...deep in our hearts we know that we dont have that fire power to coup with africans...they are far ahead...misbah is good captain but bad/slow batsman who dont know how to make runs in front of quality test bowling...hafeez isnt a test material, younis has passed his prime, azhar ali and asad shafiq can resist but cant turn the table, nasir is a decent enough batsman but he cant play 2 sessions straight away....thats it

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2013, 7:10 GMT

    If Irfan plays, Misbah has to use him very carefully in short bursts preferably with new cherry and/or on proper time. As for Irfan, he must have to put emphasis on his line & length because his fitness won't allow him to bowl spell more then 5-6 overs. Gul should either be rested and Tanvir should get a chance in 2nd test as his track record against SA is pretty decent OR Gul should get rid of his useless short pitch deliveries which can never trouble bounce loving SA batting lineup atleast at 135-138kph :) plus no new ball for Gul as it was never an option for him, seriously. Junaid is handling his responsibility quite well so nothing much to say for him. Ajmal must adapt to the condition and Arehman cant be his replacement. Pak batting lineup needs serious adjustments as its a special situation where they are facing the world's best attack and its the time where old legs are needed at frontline. Opening pair is just fine, younus should be tried at 3, misbah 4, shafiq 5 and azhar 6