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Pakistan stick with under-fire top six for Newlands examination

Sarfraz Ahmed backed his batsmen to come good as he ruled out changes or the inclusion of an allrounder

Duanne Olivier celebrates the wicket of Imam-ul-Haq  •  Getty Images

Duanne Olivier celebrates the wicket of Imam-ul-Haq  •  Getty Images

For all the pressure on the Pakistan batsmen, they will get at least two more innings to cement their places in the side after Sarfraz Ahmed confirmed an unchanged top six for the second Test at Newlands.
In a week where speculation about a number of changes to the personnel and batting order had been rife, Pakistan have instead opted for stability. And the pressure on the batsmen to score runs increases further after Sarfraz, Pakistan's captain, also ruled out selecting allrounder Faheem Ashraf, deciding to go instead for four specialist bowlers.
"We will go with the same batting line-up," Sarfraz said. "I'm very hopeful of my batsmen doing well here. They are working really hard in the nets and playing very well, so hopefully we will bounce back in this Test match.
"We are going with six specialist batsmen for this match [and not Faheem]. We need to try and score some runs because we know if our batsmen score runs, we have the bowlers to put the pressure on the opposition."
The fallout after the second-innings collapse in Centurion, where Pakistan lost nine wickets after tea to slump from the relative riches of 100 for 1 to 189 all out, was dramatic enough that an unchanged top six was something of a surprise. It began with leaked reports of an outraged Mickey Arthur having harsh words with his senior players, leading to intense scrutiny around the position of Asad Shafiq in particular, and saw strong words from batting coach Grant Flower about Fakhar Zaman's approach.
But with Haris Sohail ruled out of the tour, Pakistan's reduced options from the bench eased the pressure on the incumbents somewhat, though with Mohammad Rizwan waiting in the wings, batting positions are not exactly nailed on.
"When Asian teams come to South Africa, it's very challenging," Sarfraz said. "We're used to playing on low-bounce pitches, but when we come to Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, every Asian player struggles. But those players who are good enough, like many of ours, make it work. Our batting coach talks to the players so hopefully we will get better."
Sarfraz was candid about his team combination, also disclosing they would go in with a combination of three seamers and one spinner. Faf du Plessis, on the other hand, had been much more guarded in how South Africa would line up for the New Year's Test.
"When we looked at the pitch today, it looks a lot different from how it looked yesterday," Sarfraz said. "The look is completely changed. I believe we'll go in with three fast bowlers and one spinner."
With Mohammad Abbas coming in and slotting straight into the side, Pakistan will have to drop one of the three who featured in Newlands. Sarfraz wouldn't be drawn on which one - Hasan Ali is the likeliest to make way - but said any fast bowler would enjoy playing in these conditions.
"It's not just Abbas, every fast bowler will like bowling here because the way they prepare the pitches here at the moment. If you see the Centurion pitch, every fast bowler likes that kind of pitch. I know this is [Vernon] Philander's home town, so he will enjoy bowling here. Hopefully Abbas will also enjoy himself."
He singled out Shaheen Afridi for particular praise for his performance at Centurion, suggesting if he continued to bowl like that he would "soon become the best fast bowler in Pakistan", and expressing full belief in his side to bounce back on a tour that has begun somewhat shakily.
"If you talk about the third day [in Centurion], if we took one catch or the umpire gave Dean Elgar out, the situation would be very different. Maybe that would have triggered a collapse, so who knows? We are really hopeful and our bowling gives us a lot of confidence. If we have runs on the board we'll give them a hard time."

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000