Centurion fortress to test battered Pakistan
Match factsFebruary 22-26, 2013
Start time 1030 local (0830 GMT)
If the first half of the South African home Test season was one-sided, the second hasn't been very competitive. Pakistan are in danger of suffering the same fate as New Zealand, in conceding a series sweep. Such has been South Africa's dominance that both Tests so far haven't gone into the fifth day. Pakistan, to their credit, showed fight at Newlands and at one stage, it was the hosts' turn to sweat and play catch-up. But against the best side in the world, the improved showing wasn't good enough. The visitors were guilty of taking their foot off the pedal when the advantage was theirs to extend, and their surrender threw up many baffling questions, ranging from team selection to Misbah-ul-Haq's tactics.
For starters, if the Newlands pitch was predicted to be the most favourable among the three Test surfaces for Pakistan, with its tendency to aid spin, why wasn't Abdur Rehman picked as the second spinner? Rehman was talked about as a likely replacement for the injured Junaid Khan, but he was benched. Saeed Ajmal ended up shouldering the burden of two spinners rather than one, his ten-wicket haul coming in a losing cause. Tanvir Ahmed drew flak for his harmless, 120 kph medium-pacers, who didn't even have the movement to trouble the batsmen. His was hardly a like-for-like replacement for Junaid and during the Test he looked least likely to get a breakthrough.
One player who could have given Ajmal the support needed was Mohammad Hafeez, but he was mysteriously underbowled by Misbah in both innings. Hafeez picked up four in an innings at the Wanderers, but bowled less than 12 overs in the match at Newlands. With the hosts on the brink of victory, Hafeez got one to dart off the rough so much that first slip collected the ball. One wondered about the impact he could have made had he been used effectively as a second spinner. His handling was not properly explained after the game. If Pakistan are to make a fist of the dead rubber at Centurion, they need to recognise their strengths and utilise their players properly, injury permitting of course.
A win at Centurion will not only give South Africa their fifth consecutive home Test win but also 50 Test wins for their captain Graeme Smith, who's now the most successful Test captain in history. South Africa don't play any Tests till the end of this year and Smith spoke of signing off this season with another win.
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In the spotlight
Mohammad Irfan was one of the positives to emerge from the Newlands Test for Pakistan. The 7ft left-armer had an impressive debut, taking three first-innings wickets, but more than the wickets it was the steep bounce and teasing angle across the right-handers that drew notice. Several deliveries clocked in excess of 140 kph and if he can maintain that speed, he could be more than a handful in Centurion.
The Decision Review System was a topic of controversy at Newlands, with Jacques Kallis' dismissal in the first innings causing plenty of confusion, followed by an apology by the ICC's Playing Control Team stating that he was wrongly adjudged out. While the system has been effective in correcting howlers, loopholes still remain. Both Tests so far have had issues with technology but despite the glitches, both teams are in favour of the DRS.
Pakistan hinted at a change at the top six, but Misbah, not known to reveal changes on the eve of a Test, stopped short of naming players. Junaid's return isn't certain either, though the team manager said he was feeling better. Tanvir's poor showing might prompt a change, with rookie seamer Ehsan Adil, left-armer Rahat Ali and Rehman in the mix.
Pakistan: (probable) 1 Mohammed Hafeez, 2 Nasir Jamshed, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 8 Umar Gul, 9 Saeed Ajmal, 10 Mohammad Irfan, 11 Junaid Khan/Rahat Ali/Ehsan Adil/Abdur Rehman
South Africa announced just one change, with Rory Kleinveldt coming in for the injured Morne Morkel.
South Africa: (probable) 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 Faf du Plessis, 7 Dean Elgar, 8 Robin Peterson, 9 Vernon Philander, 10 Rory Kleinveldt, 11 Dale Steyn
Pitch and conditions
A typical fast bowler's strip is expected at Centurion. It has a tinge of green and is expected to be bouncier than Newlands and the high humidity is likely to aid swing. Thunderstorms are expected.
Stats and trivia
- South Africa have lost just one Test at Centurion since readmission. It came against England after both captains agreed to forfeit an innings each.
- Jacques Kallis is the highest run-scorer for South Africa at Centurion with 1267 runs at 70.68 with five centuries. He is also the joint second-highest wicket-taker for South Africa at the venue with 31 wickets with Dale Steyn, behind Makhaya Ntini (54).
"I'm running out of things to say. I am looking forward to that number growing even more. It's a great achievement for me and the guys that I have played with."
Graeme Smith on his thoughts on approaching 50 Test wins as captain.
"They know the importance of Test cricket. Everybody knows the importance and every team wants to win every game. It's not about winning series, its about winning every game."
Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, does not think South Africa will take their foot off the gas.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo