Pakistan will have to fight for just their third Test match win in South Africa without the services of Mohammad Abbas. Sarfraz Ahmed confirmed at a press conference at Supersport Park that the Boxing Day Test came too soon for Abbas, with the shoulder injury that kept him out of the third Test against New Zealand ensuring he will play no part in the opening Test.
Legspinner Shadab has been nursing a long-term groin injury which caused him to miss the home Tests against Australia and New Zealand, although he did take part in the limited-overs games against New Zealand. Opening batsman Fakhar, meanwhile, has not featured for Pakistan since November 11 thanks to a knee injury, but played in the tour game against a CSA Invitation XI last week.
Abbas's sensational performance in the two-Test series against Australia on the generally placid UAE tracks in October - he took 17 wickets in two Tests at 10.58 - meant he was considered Pakistan's trump card for the seamer-friendly pitches in South Africa. After the shoulder niggle last month, he was initially thought to be ruled out for the entire South Africa tour, before it emerged that he could participate in the bulk of this series. He had at one point been believed likely to win the fitness race by Boxing Day, only for Sarfraz to confirm otherwise.
Abbas's absence means Pakistan are left with just three specialist seamers in Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali and Shaheen Afridi along with the allrounder Faheem Ashraf. That quartet is all set to feature in the Centurion Test now. Sarfraz also hoped the surface would allow the legspinner Yasir Shah some purchase in the later stages, effectively confirming the spinner's involvement in Shadab's absence.