Mohammad Akram satisfied with raw attack's performance
A combination of injuries and illnesses compelled Pakistan into fielding a pace attack with only two Tests worth of experience in Centurion. It gave their bowling coach Mohammad Akram insight into their resources - a look into the future - and he said he was "pretty satisfied" with what he saw, although there are some concerns.
The most obvious issue is that the 19-year old debutant Ehsan Adil may not be able to take further part in the match after pulling his calf muscle in the fourth over before stumps. He went off the field after the first ball of his 13th over and Akram could not confirm the severity of the injury. "He will get 14 or 15 hours of rest tonight and we hope he will bowl tomorrow," was his only answer.
Should Adil be ruled out, it will be a sad end to what must have been a dream-like few hours for the teenager. He was under no illusion that he was brought to South Africa to play Test cricket. According to Akram, Adil knew he was traveling to gain experience. "We brought him on this tour to give him some exposure," he said. "We started a policy to take young players with us since we do not have international a cricket in Pakistan because then they can learn from being around the squad."
Only because Junaid Khan's thigh wound had not healed and Umar Gul's fever had not broken, was Adil was given a debut. "We didn't have any choice," Akram said. "There are a lot of injuries in our camp but Gul and Junaid were our first choice."
Circumstance dictated the strength of the side Pakistan could play and it would be unfair to judge them on the performance that ensued. Their inexperience showed. In between challenging deliveries, there were too many runs offered, particularly off wide deliveries and an unacceptable number of no-balls. Hashim Amla said as much. "There were times when they bowled well but then we would often get a loose ball and we could take advantage of that," he said.
Rahat Ali showed improvement from his debut at the Wanderers, where he was both expensive and ineffective. In Centurion, he was only the former. He persisted with a length that was too full and invited the drive and could not rein it in. Adil had a better measure of the length, although he was not as quick as he had been talked up to be.
Akram was impressed with Adil's early spell, in which he claimed the wicket of Graeme Smith, but saw him taper off towards the end of the day. "He bowled well this morning even though there were a bit of nerves because of the debut," he said. "It became difficult later on, especially against players like AB de Villiers and Amla. It is never easy. Our bowlers are still learning and they will learn."
South Africa's top six have 296 matches of experience to draw from and only Mohammed Irfan looked a real threat. He did not make the batsmen play enough but he was dangerous because of his bounce. "It wasn't a bad start for the youngsters," Akram said.
He was hopeful things could only get better, especially because of the conditions. "I expected the cracks would open up by day three but I see they are opening up on day one," Akram said. "When that happens, you can't keep Saeed Ajmal out of the game. I don't expect him to do wonders on day one. Maybe later on."
For now Akram can only hope Adil pulls recovers overnight and the injuries, for which he had two explanations, don't mount. "At home, we are used to soft ground but here in South Africa, the ground is very heavy. That could be one reason," he said before placing more responsibility on the players and staff for the spate of niggles. "We really need to work on our fitness as well. I admit that."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent