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This was a tour that very nearly never happened. Just 48 hours before South Africa were due to arrive in Pakistan, a bomb blast in a deserted office block in Karachi sent shockwaves of concern back to Johannesburg. As knees jerked everywhere, the United Cricket Board of South Africa announced the tour was off.
It was an unnecessarily hasty decision for several reasons. Subsequent investigations revealed that the bombing was gang-related and had no connection to terrorism; more significantly, by calling off the trip the UCBSA contradicted itself, having accepted the report of its own security delegation that it was safe to tour just days earlier.
For the Pakistan Cricket Board, already financially crippled by the absence of touring teams in the wake of the bomb blast that cut short the New Zealand tour of 2002, it was the last straw. They threatened to seek compensation from the South Africans for loss of revenue and gained ICC support in an attempt to revive the tour. After several days of discussion, they succeeded. There was a changed itinerary of two Tests and five one-day internationals instead of the originally planned split of three and three, and with Karachi and the northern frontier city of Peshawar removed from the schedule. Security was also beefed up, and the trip passed off without incident. That was hardly a surprise given that more than 2,000 police and security personnel were on duty at each venue; during the Test series they often outnumbered the paying spectators, with Pakistani crowds once again showing their preference for the one-day game.
There was, at least, one positive aspect of the on-off start to the tour: the ICC proposed a checklist to be worked through before tours could be called off in the future, a move that was ratified soon afterwards. Once the tour got started, player behaviour - and the way the ICC dealt with it - became the major issue following a clash between Andrew Hall and Yousuf Youhana in the second one-day international. Hall was clearly out of order for adding physical contact to his usual aggressive approach but, inexplicably, the umpires did not report the matter to the referee. With both sides seemingly happy to let the matter slide for fear of getting one of their players banned, the issue festered for four days until ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed ordered a hearing. This eventually took place five days after the original incident, an unacceptable delay that cast a shadow over the rest of the one-day series.
Hall and his captain Graeme Smith, who waded into the clash verbally, were both suspended, which left the South Africans feeling persecuted, and they responded by reporting Shoaib Akhtar for verbally abusing Paul Adams during the First Test. Shoaib was banned too, which meant that the behaviour of both sides was impeccable for the last Test and a half, but it also had the effect of blurring the line between abuse and acceptable banter. Almost all chat - witty or otherwise - was removed from the game as players fought shy of risking a ban. It created a strange atmosphere on the field, with one South African player saying: "It just doesn't feel like a Test match out there."
At the start of the tour it was difficult to escape the impression that the South Africa players would rather be anywhere but Pakistan, particularly as they had just come off the back of a three-month tour of England and had series against West Indies and New Zealand to follow. Once they acclimatised, however, they played some typically competitive cricket, although the trip illuminated their deficiencies. Smith led the side from the front but was hamstrung by the lack of a consistently hostile bowler to support the accuracy of Shaun Pollock, with Makhaya Ntini showing only glimpses of his best form.
Once again, they had no high-class spinner, with Adams rarely looking like running through top-order batsmen, even though he did take his best Test figures. With the bat, Gary Kirsten was brilliant in the Test series while Boeta Dippenaar showed signs of advancement, especially as a one-day player, but Neil McKenzie had a poor tour. His shot selection, particularly his use of the sweep, was a major cause for concern.
Pakistan's loss of the one-day series from an apparently impregnable position suggested they were too reliant on Inzamam-ul-Haq's talismanic qualities, but they subsequently showed real steel to win the Lahore Test without him. That victory illustrated the importance of having bowlers capable of taking 20 wickets; in that department, Pakistan had a clear edge thanks to Shoaib and the leg-spinner, Danish Kaneria, who bowled beautifully throughout.
The form of Taufeeq Umar and Imran Farhat hinted that Pakistan had finally found a stable opening pair again. Against that, the performances of Moin Khan, brought back when Rashid Latif opted out of the Test series for personal reasons, and leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed, picked on the back of 103 wickets for county champions Sussex, suggested their international careers were rapidly drawing to a close.
Match reports for
Tour Match: City Nazim XI v South Africans at Lahore, Oct 1, 2003