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Firdose Moonda in Centurion
February 23, 2013
Mohammad Hafeez, Pakistan's opening batsman, has fiercely denied being the team's weak link despite sub-standard performances with the bat. Hafeez registered his fourth single-digit score of the series to open Pakistan up for the second time in the match and leave them staring at a whitewash.
Despite posting his highest score of the series in the first innings - 18, Hafeez has had a disappointing time overall with just 43 runs from six innings. His record outside the subcontinent and Zimbabwe is similarly dismal with his average sitting at 15.59.
Still, he believes he is fit to continue as an opener at Test level. "I am really working hard in the nets, it's just that I got some good balls in the series," a defensive Hafeez said at the end of day two. "There is nothing wrong with my technique, it's just that the runs aren't coming and I am not performing for the team."
After surviving for more than an hour in Pakistan's first innings, Hafeez looked set to turn his fortunes around. He was driving well and looked more comfortable at the crease than he has thus far. But he succumbed to a familiar problem that ran through the entire line-up today.
As he tried to fend off extra bounce from Kyle Abbott, he popped a chance up to Dean Elgar at gully to spark Pakistan's collapse. In the second innings, it was the other problem Pakistan's openers have had that affected Hafeez - the struggle against the new ball with its pace and movement. Dale Steyn was keen to finish the job and steamed in, Hafeez was stuck in his crease and played on.
Deliveries like that, not his own inability to deal with them or the conditions, are what Hafeez thinks has hampered him this series. "The bowler did the basics right, especially by pitching the ball in the right areas," he explained. "And credit must go to them, especially to the debutant Abbott, who bowled really well. There is not too much in the pitch, there is some bounce which we expected."
Hafeez has also been under-utilised with the ball, except at the Wanderers where he made a major impact, but feels the captain "knows how to handle the players," and does not see that as a way in which he could have contributed more. Instead, he remains symbolic of Pakistan's malaise, although he also insists their troubles are not as serious as they look.
"In Cape Town we had some good moments. We couldn't put pressure on them but we are trying to fight it out. If we have one good partnership here, we can fight it out. We are very capable of scoring runs on any track. We need things to change. The series will go on and the boys will come out with some good performances," he said.
For that, Pakistan will need a Herculean partnership, even better than the one Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq put on at Newlands, which was the highest by visiting batsmen in South Africa in seven years. Younis is at the crease and Shafiq is yet to come. They also have Imran Farhat, who didn't come out to bat in the second innings. He was struck on the hand and has since had an x-ray taken, but will be fine to bat on the third day. Pakistan's chances still appear thin.
The South African attack, even without Morne Morkel and Jacques Kallis, remains potent and aggressive. Perhaps more importantly, they are uber-confident, something that was evident in Graeme Smith enforcing the follow-on. "We all thought of not having to bat last but it was a very positive move," AB de Villiers explained. "Graeme showed confidence in the bowlers. Hopefully in the morning session, it will move around a lot like it did today. I found it played quite well after lunch on day one but it does a bit in the morning."
Pakistan have had to contend with many early bursts in the series and those words will not give them any comfort. In this situation, only small goals are worthwhile, such as getting through the first over, then the first hour and then the first session. If they can achieve some of those, Hafeez may be proved right in some ways. "We lost the series but this game was a little bit different and we have to come up with some good performances," he said.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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