A Pakistan side smarting from the recent 1-2 lose to New Zealand in the United Arab Emirates head to South Africa for a series of three Tests, five one-day internationals and three Twenty20 internationals, with the first test starting in Centurion on December 26th. In the wake of the tough loss to the Black Caps, Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed urged his team to play “without fear” in a country where they have won only two Tests during their past five tours. Sarfraz said he still has high hopes of earning a good result against the Proteas.
Pakistan’s two wins in 12 tests came in 1998 and 2007, having lost nine with just one draw. On their last tour in 2013, Pakistan were routed 3-0 and bowled out for their lowest test score of 49 in the first test in Johannesburg, with both senior batsmen Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq in the line-up. Now without the two stalwarts, Pakistan will look to Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq to help guide them.
Interestingly, it seems South Africa‚ after last season’s lessons learnt against India, will not be looking at playing around too much with their pitches. Almost a year on from the drama that unfolded when the surface in Johannesburg became the villain of the third Test against India – a pitch made to order to take opponents who had grown up on slow‚ turning surfaces as far out of their comfort zones as possible, late on the third day had the tables turned on the hosts when no less modest a purveyor of pace than Jasprit Bumrah managed to hit no less canny an operator than Dean Elgar on the grille of his helmet. Enter the medics to administer treatment for the ninth time in the match. Seven of their previous interventions had been to remedy raps on the gloves and once they came on to soothe the impact of a rib tickler. All were caused by deliveries that had no business rising as sharply as they did. The Elgar incident prompted match referee Andy Pycroft‚ a lawyer by profession‚ to sashay magisterially into the fray and onto the field and for play to be suspended. That plunged the curator into a world of worry that the match would be abandoned because of a pitch officially deemed dangerous. Happily for all concerned‚ the battered batters excepted‚ that didn’t happen and India won by 63 runs after tea on the fourth day.
1st Test: 01.30pm December 26th, Wednesday @ SuperSport Park, Centurion
2nd Test: 02.00pm January 03rd, Thursday @ Newlands, Cape Town
3rd Test: 01.30pm January 11th, Friday @ New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg
1st ODI: 04.30pm January 19th, Saturday @ St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth
2nd ODI: 04.30pm January 22nd, Tuesday @ Kingsmead, Durban
3rd ODI: 04.30pm January 25th, Friday @ SuperSport Park, Centurion
4th ODI: 01.30pm January 27th, Sunday @ The Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg
5th ODI: 04.30pm January 30th, Wednesday @ Newlands, Cape Town
1st T20I: 09.30pm February 01st, Friday @ Newlands, Cape Town
2nd T20I: 06.00pm February 03rd, Sunday @ The Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg
3rd T20I: 09.30pm February 06th, Wednesday @ SuperSport Park, Centurion
Tests (Since 1995)
South Africa: 12
One Day Internationals (Since 1992)
South Africa: 47
No result: 1
First Match: Benson & Hedges World Cup – 22nd match, South Africa won by 20 runs (revised target) at Brisbane Cricket Ground, Woolloongabba, Brisbane (neutral venue), on March 08th, 1992
Last Match: 7th Match, Group B in 2017 ICC Champions Trophy – Pakistan won by 19 runs (D/L method) at Edgbaston, Birmingham on June 7th, 2017
Twenty20 Internationals (Since 2007)
South Africa: 6
First Game: Only Twenty20, South Africa won by 10 wickets (with 8.3 overs remaining) at New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, on February 02nd, 2007
Last Game: 2nd T20I – Pakistan won by 6 runs at Newlands, Cape Town on November 22nd, 2013
The Proteas will have their first red-ball engagement some five months since they travelled to Sri Lanka for a two-Test series they lost in July. While some players have played county and Four-Day Franchise Series cricket‚ the diet of Mzansi Super League cricket has changed their outlook. Skipper Faf Du Plessis is concerned about the players’ mental freshness even though he said the MSL is an important part of the schedule. The poor showing of Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla in Sri Lanka does not help. While Elgar averaged 12.25 in the series, Amla and Markram averaged just a paltry 10 each, which was one of the primary reasons behind South Africa’s 2-0 loss. But with South Africa all set to begin their home season, SA will hope the top order fires in familiar conditions.
Fast bowler Duanne Olivier makes a comeback replacing the injured Lungi Ngidi who suffered a significant ligament injury to his right knee after falling awkwardly while fielding in the one-off T20I against Australia recently that has now sidelined him for 12 weeks. Olivier has five Test caps to his name, the last of which came in October 2017. The Bloemfontein quick picked 17 wickets in those fixtures – all at home – while also boasting of sound first-class credentials [361 wickets in 90 games].
Another first-class performer who made the cut in the 13-man squad is the uncapped 23-year-old Zubayr Hamza. The left-handed top-order batsman enjoyed an impressive tour of India in July-August 2018, scoring 156 runs across three innings, and also has a personal-best of an unbeaten 202 in first-class cricket.
Like with every other overseas series, Pakistan will begin their tour of South Africa with serious questions over their batsmen’s ability to withstand high quality seam bowling. Also, what further adds to the concerns is Pakistan’s current hapless batting form. In their recent home series against New Zealand in the UAE, Pakistan were rolled out for scores under 200 twice, the latest of which saw them surrender the three-match series 1-2. However, it is not only the second innings collapses that is a cause of worry. Pakistan have suffered as many as three first innings batting collapses – all three in Abu Dhabi – across five matches in the past two months. This doesn’t augur well for them considering the pitches in South Africa assist pacers in the early days of the match.
After a brief hiatus from the national side, Mohammad Amir returns to Pakistan’s Test squad which “has been selected keeping in mind the conditions in South Africa”. The squad also includes Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan, and Mohammad Rizwan. Bilal Asif, Mir Hamza and Saad Ali – all part of Pakistan’s squad during the just-concluded series against New Zealand – were dropped from the squad.
After attracting much criticism for his failure to pick a wicket across 18 overs in three Asia Cup matches in September, Amir, who has only three ODI wickets at an average of over 100 this year, returned to domestic cricket to rediscover his mojo. He turned out in four first-class and two List A matches for Sui Southern Gas Company, taking 23 scalps, which in turn included two five-wicket hauls. Backed by the likes of Mohammad Abbas, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Yasir Shah in the bowling lineup, Pakistan’s bowling is in capable hands to pick up the mandatory 20 wickets. With Pakistan expected to play a solitary spinner in South Africa, they have dropped Bilal, who picked up the second five-wicket haul of his Test career on the second day of the third Test versus New Zealand.
South Africa Test Squad: Faf du Plessis(c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar, Zubayr Hamza, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Duanne Olivier, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn
Pakistan Test Squad: Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Azhar Ali, Shan Masood, Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed(c), Mohammad Rizwan, Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Abbas , Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir, Faheem Ashraf, Shaheen Afridi
As we edge closer to the Boxing day Test where two evenly matched sides face off, half-centuries from Haris Sohail and Imam-ul-Haq, along with a three-wicket burst from Mohammad Amir, helped Pakistan complete a win on the final day of their three-day warm-up fixture against Cricket South Africa Invitation XI in Benoni on Friday and should give the visitors a big boost of confidence. Yasir Shah, who arrived in South Africa on Thursday following the birth of his child, also got some overs under his belt, while Fakhar Zaman edged closer to fitness with another short innings.
The tourists won by six wickets late on day three, completing their preparations for the three-match Test series – Amir first bagged 3 for 35 in 12 overs, including the wickets of Joshua Richards and Matthew Breetzke for single digits, as the the hosts declared at 182 for 7.
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