The opening day of the first Test promises all the excitement of highly charged action, since for South Africa it will be all about maintaining their dominance but for Pakistan it will be a litmus test to prove their mettle against a top side outside familiar territory.
The three-match Test series begins in Johannesburg today with both teams ready to confront each other at The Wanderers Stadium.
On paper, the home side appears obvious favourites considering the conditions and their overall record against Pakistan in the format that boasts eight victories and only three losses from a total of 18 Tests.Moreover, South Africa possess the world’s best bowling attack with Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel all ready to test the Pakistan batsmen.
But despite all these abilities of the hosts, the series offers a lot of excitement due to the unpredictability and quality of the tourists to shock any given opposition. Pakistan under Misbahul Haq have done considerably well in the last couple of years ever since the troubled tour of England in 2010. Their 3-0 whitewash last year against England, the then number one side, is a testament to their ability to upset top competitors.
“It’s a tough challenge but Pakistan have the potential,” said Misbah. “We have played the majority of our games in conditions similar to home in the last two years and it’s a good chance for us to prove our mettle in unfamiliar settings. This series will assess our standing in the format.”
Batting still a problem
However, batting remained a headache for the visitors ahead of the opening match as their middle-order batting failed in the warm-up match against South Africa.
But senior batsman Younus Khan is confident of doing well.
“We know that in order to win against South Africa we have to go with a positive frame of mind,” said the former captain. “If we go with a calm frame of mind then we have a very good chance against them.”
Pakistan’s strength lies in their bowling attack that includes pacers Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan who are expected to give a hard time to the strong batting line-up of the hosts. Saeed Ajmal – who has picked up 104 wickets in his last 18 Tests – remains the team’s trump card despite the less-favourable bouncy pitches.
Injury woes continue to haunt Pakistan
Following Taufeeq Umar’s exit from the tour owing to leg injury, Asad Shafiq also became a doubtful starter after sustaining an injury during a training session.
According to a team official, the team management was assessing the injury and no decision has been taken as yet about his selection for the first match.
“It’s considerably a sterner test for the Pakistan side keeping in mind conditions and current form of the Proteas, who are very tough at their home.”
“This series will also be a severe test of Misbah’s captaincy. He has captained in most of the matches in similar conditions; this is an unfamiliar venue for him.”
“Pakistan have shown a lot of improvement and hunger to win in the last couple of years. This team is in high spirits and can shock South Africa.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2013.