Zimbabwe v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Harare, 2nd day September 11, 2013

The Professor's problem

Pakistan have a problem at the top of their order. Their experienced opener is struggling, and they are still having try-outs for the other spot

If Mohammad Hafeez makes a trip to Lake Kariba after this series, he would fancy his chances of returning with a decent stash, considering that every time he has gone fishing recently, he's caught something. The edge.

Twice in three innings against Zimbabwe and four times out of six in South Africa, Hafeez has been caught behind the stumps, chasing deliveries he should have left alone. Even on a placid pitch at Harare Sports Club, Hafeez's uncertainty outside the off stump was exposed by the moving ball.

This time it took 32 deliveries against an attack that took some time to find its line - understandably so, because one half of the opening pair, Brian Vitori, had not played a Test in 19 months - but it happened nonetheless. Vitori pitched the ball up and moved it away so that Hafeez had to play, and the outside edge carried to Hamilton Masakadza at first slip.

Vitori would have seen Hafeez's doubt against previous deliveries. He had shouldered arms tentatively when Vitori first found movement and was beaten when he tried to defend on the back foot. Against another delivery, Hafeez was surprised by the lack of bounce and withdrew his bat too late. There was an edge but it fell short of first slip.

That was just before lunch and it must have got Vitori thinking. During the break, someone may have reminded him how Hafeez had been dismissed in the first Test. He had been caught in his crease by Tendai Chatara and pushed forward, only to be caught at second slip in the first innings.

Vitori and Chatara are no Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander but it may have been brought to their attention how the South African bowlers got the better of Hafeez six months ago. In five out of six innings, he edged - once onto his stumps - and the rest to be caught by the keeper or slips. The exception was when he played down the wrong line to one that moved across him and was trapped lbw. Steyn was responsible for four of those dismissals, moving the ball away from Hafeez every time.

With Vitori's natural angle taking the ball away from Hafeez, he could use that to his advantage. And all that is before considering the dry spell Hafeez is experiencing in the longer format.

Hafeez has scored only one hundred and one fifty in his last three series and both of them were in batsmen-friendly conditions. His 196 was at the SSC and was followed by a 52 in Pallekele. On anything livelier, he has struggled.

Those who have watched him for years are not surprised and point to a distinct lack of improvement in his Test cricket. Hafeez's highest score against a major team outside the subcontinent is 95 against England at The Oval in 2006. Four of his five hundreds have come in his home country, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. The exception was 119 against Zimbabwe two years ago in Bulawayo, on a surface that was as flat as the attack he was facing.

With no marked progression in ten years of playing Test cricket, questions over whether Hafeez should continue opening are valid, especially with a series against South Africa ahead. He averages only 17 against them, and though pitches in the UAE are likely to offer little to the quicks and opening is likely to be less challenging than it is in Africa, Steyn and co will not make life easy for Hafeez.

His value as a spinner aside, Pakistan may have to consider other options if they hope to present a strong resistance upfront against the world's top-ranked team. Taufeeq Umar would appear the leading contender because of his record against South Africa. In six matches he played against them, he scored two hundreds and four fifties and averaged 60.83. However, most of those runs were scored ten years ago and whether Taufeeq can summon similar resolve is the question.

Imran Farhat is another candidate, although his presence seems to be anything but palatable to many Pakistan fans. He also has decent numbers against South Africa, an average of 36.83 in six Tests with a century and two fifties. He played against them in the most recent series and appeared in control when he scored 30 and 43. Or they could revert to Nasir Jamshed, who opened in two Tests in South Africa and was dropped after not faring well.

Alternatively, Pakistan could gamble on a youngster in Ahmed Shehzad. Although he has not played Test cricket, his limited-overs form in Zimbabwe hinted at promise and ability. They would have to risk partnering a rookie with Khurram Manzoor, who impressed Dav Whatmore on his comeback but is still re-finding his feet in international cricket.

Manzoor took a step towards doing that today, by scoring the first half-century by a Pakistan opener in five Tests this year. His partner Hafeez, on the other hand, may want to get fishing out of his system before taking on South Africa.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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