Pakistan gain little from Cape Cobras win
The conclusions from Pakistan’s side match with the Emerging Cape Cobras were unsurprising. The bowling remains reassuring, but probably will not be able to dig the batting lineup out of trouble as they have done so frequently over the past couple of years.
Playing at the picturesque Wally Wilson Oval, the home of the Western Province Cricket Club, Pakistan sent the hosts – an invitational XI mostly comprising of academy and second tier players – in to bat in the two-day match. And by tea on the first day, the folly of the first Test was obvious. While Rahat Ali and Tanvir Ahmed bowled diligently – but not extraordinarily – Mohammad Irfan, for the lack of a better phrase, scared the bejesus out of anyone who faced him. Using his rather unique skill set of length-balls-at-the-throat-of-batsmen, Irfan looked like taking a wicket every over; if not hurt anyone who had the audacity to stand 22 yards across from him. While there may still be concerns over his ability to last five days, surely he deserves the right to be included as Pakistan’s third seamer in the second Test at Newlands. After being one-nil down in the Test series there is little point in Pakistan going for the safe option, especially considering how effective Irfan has been since his comeback. So perhaps it is time Misbah-ul-Haq unleashed him on the South Africans.
The batting, though, failed again. With almost an hour to play on the first day, Pakistan had already lost their top four wickets – and as was the case in the first Test match, it was left to Asad Shafiq and Misbah to steady the innings. Both Misbah and Asad looked as assured as they had in the second innings at the Wanderers, making the outing fruitless for the rest of the batting line-up.
After Irfan and Ehsan Adil tore through ECC’s second innings, leaving Pakistan with a target of just 59, Younis Khan was sent in up the order. With both Mohammad Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed resting – together with Junaid and Gul – Younis had the opportunity to kickstart his tour. For Pakistan to stand any chance in this series they need their most experienced batsman to lead them and when he fell early on in the first innings – edging an outswinger to first slip, as always – that did not seem likely. But with Pakistan deciding to bat on even after they had achieved their target in the fourth innings, Younis began to find his fluency. By the end of the day’s play he seemed to be back to his imperious, impish best. The quality of the bowling he faced might be a rung or ten below what he will face in Newlands, but for Pakistan to have their only batsman who has succeeded in all conditions, batting like that is a positive they can take away from this match.
The foremost concern though remains with Azhar Ali. A month on from having received the award for Test Batsman of the Year in the PCB awards, Azhar seems to be going through his first real bad patch in international cricket. He has not passed 20 in his last eight innings for Pakistan in all formats, and with Hafeez never likely to be a trustworthy opener, his form could signal the alarm bells for Pakistan. The fact that their reserves include Faisal Iqbal and Imran Farhat means that even replacing Azhar would still mean the incoming batsman won’t score more than 20.
All in all, Pakistan will go to Newlands on Thursday having learned little, except the fact that they might have been better served if both their side matches had been played before the first Test. The odds remain in favour of the number one team in the world, but as condescending gora commentators forever point out, you never know which Pakistan will turn up on any given day. Hope does spring eternal, even if it is false hope.