Series review

South Africa v Pakistan 2007-08

Test matches (3): South Africa 2, Pakistan 1
One-day internationals (5): South Africa 3, Pakistan 1
Twenty20 international (1): South Africa 1, Pakistan 0

Jacques Kallis celebrates another hundred © AFP

Pakistan's tour of South Africa in early 2007 furnished its usual slew of dramatic headlines. Just as routinely, many of them were not restricted to events on the field of play.

The shenanigans started even before the Pakistanis arrived, when their board named a preliminary squad that numbered no fewer than 25 players, including Mohammad Asif and Shoaib Akhtar. Days later, Akhtar was ruled out because of poor conditioning, the apparent upshot of months of inactivity after he and Asif had been banned for failing a board dope test in October.

A tribunal headed by a Pakistani judge had cleared the pair before their selection, but the World Anti-Doping Agency planned to take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sports in Switzerland, which eventually ruled that it had no jurisdiction.

Theories that Akhtar had been omitted at the behest of the captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, who considered him a disruptive influence, were believable. After all, he lived a life at least as hedonistic as Inzamam's appeared pious. The fact that Akhtar had coped well enough in two Twenty20 games, a firstclass match (in which he bowled 21 overs) and a three-day training camp only fuelled this rumour.

But Inzamam swatted the notion away as contemptuously as a half-tracker from the most ordinary seamer. "I do not want to comment on this, but all that is being reported is not correct," he said, duly proceeding to comment. "The selectors feel he needs more time to regain match fitness, and we are hoping he will join us for the one-day series in South Africa. Shoaib has not played cricket for the last three months, but I have no doubt that if he proves himself match fit after playing domestic cricket he will get a chance to come back." Little did Inzamam know that, three days before the Test series began, Akhtar would be summoned as cover for Umar Gul, who had hurt his ankle in a warm-up. Akhtar claimed four wickets in 11 overs on the opening day of the Second Test, then pulled out unfit and went home with Gul.

Pakistan were bundled into the Tests barely a week after touching down in South Africa with a squad trimmed to 17. All they had by way of preparation was a three-day game, in which Mohammad Hafeez and Imran Farhat scored centuries and Shahid Nazir took five wickets in an innings. Curiously, none of those players contributed significantly after that, save for a half-century from Farhat in the First Test. Meanwhile, Mohammad Yousuf, the leading Test batsman of 2006, did not arrive until the Second Test; he was attending his pregnant wife, who suffered complications before giving birth to a daughter.

A rubber that began with Herschelle Gibbs turning Centurion's air a lurid shade of blue, in response to abuse from the crowd, then moved to Port Elizabeth, where the coach Bob Woolmer and Akhtar almost came to blows in the dressing-room, and like some expensive firework crackled to a dramatic end inside three days in Cape Town.

South Africa were hardly stretched in winning the First Test, but Pakistan won a convincing victory in Port Elizabeth to square the series going into the finale. For the second time in a season, Graeme Smith's side countenanced the prospect of losing a home series to a team from the subcontinent. As in a similar scenario against India earlier in the summer, they picked up the gauntlet, and the precedent remained unset. However, South Africa's cause was significantly aided in the last Test, when they were given conditions heavily tilted in favour of the emphatic cricket they seem to be more comfortable playing.

Just one century was scored in the series, by the gritty left-hander Ashwell Prince, although Jacques Kallis was a frequent and weighty contributor with three half-centuries. Hashim Amla, meanwhile, clipped two fifties down the order. Makhaya Ntini seemed as indefatigable as ever, taking 19 wickets before running out of steam at last in the World Cup. Prince's hundred at Centurion meant he had scored centuries in six of his last eight Test series; his steady progress towards the finished article - a dependable batsman whose low-key confidence had a settling influence on his team-mates - was heartening for those who had followed his career from the days when he was a reckless young tyro, seeming to sneer at the very idea of a defensive stroke.

Pakistan's batting was not sturdy enough to compete most of the time, and their bowling was even less convincing. The exceptions were the disciplined Asif, who also claimed 19 wickets and carried a pace attack that reeled from one injury to the next, and leg-spinner Danish Kaneria, with 15 victims. The more haggard Asif looked, the more impressively he bowled - he seemed close to the verge of breakdown as the number of walking wounded mounted. His pace was not express, and he never extracted overt movement from the pitch or through the air; instead, his deliveries did just enough at a pace just quick enough to keep the wickets tumbling.

The one-day series followed the same pattern of South African victory, Pakistan comeback and eventual South African triumph, and also provided more drama when Shahid Afridi was banned for threatening a hectoring spectator at Centurion.

But barely a month after the Pakistanis left South Africa, the events of their tour - on and off the field - were rendered insignificant by Woolmer's death in Jamaica.

Match reports for

Tour Match: Rest of South Africa v Pakistanis at Kimberley, Jan 6-8, 2007

1st Test: South Africa v Pakistan at Centurion, Jan 11-15, 2007
Report | Scorecard

2nd Test: South Africa v Pakistan at Gqeberha, Jan 19-22, 2007
Report | Scorecard

3rd Test: South Africa v Pakistan at Cape Town, Jan 26-28, 2007
Report | Scorecard

Only T20I: South Africa v Pakistan at Johannesburg, Feb 2, 2007
Report | Scorecard

1st ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Centurion, Feb 4, 2007

2nd ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Durban, Feb 7, 2007
Report | Report | Scorecard

3rd ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Gqeberha, Feb 9, 2007
Report | Scorecard

4th ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Cape Town, Feb 11, 2007
Report | Scorecard

5th ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Johannesburg, Feb 14, 2007
Report | Scorecard

© John Wisden & Co.