Pakistan need to be aggressive to avoid whitewash
Match: South Africa v Pakistan, third Test Match
Series: South Africa lead 2 – 0 (Three-match series)
Venue: SuperSport Park, Centurion, South Africa.
Date and time: February 22nd to February 26th, 2013, 13:30 PST / 08:30 GMT
Overall Rivalry: Carnage; South Africa 10 wins, Pakistan three wins, seven Draws
Weather Report: Partly cloudy with a high of 29C and winds of less than 5 km/h. It will remain clear on Friday but showers could interrupt play through the course of five days of scheduled play.
Ground Report: SuperSport Park has a lush green outfield, great playing facilities and a spectator friendly environment. The pitch is known to be fast and furious with the ball coming on to the bat. The strip is at its liveliest on day one but continues to offer support for faster men. Post apartheid, the Proteas have only lost here once, making it their most successful home ground. The toss winning captain is likely to field first in search of early inroads.
Game On: Saeed Ajmal’s ecstatic celebration of the sixth South African wicket of Faf du Plessis in the fourth innings was a little misleading; it seemed Pakistan was on course to victory at Newlands. In reality, by then the match was out of Pakistan’s grasp.
After being put into bat and facing an early collapse, Pakistan was on top at the end of day one with two of their batsmen getting a ton each. In a seesaw of events on the second and third day, victory remained in Pakistan’s sight at all times.
However, when Pakistan had the chance to dominate, it seemed as if there was a sense of fear which kept them in a shell, especially the Pakistani captain who took only two singles in 111 balls in his second innings. The bowling was tight, but he could have surely rotated the strike more than twice in two and a half hours at the crease.
After having won a majority of sessions in Cape Town, Pakistan faced defeat at the hands of a team which had more belief in their own ability.
Pakistan will go into the final Test with a middle order that has runs under their belt. Umar Gul has been lack lustre but there is a potentially potent bowling pair in wizard Saeed Ajmal and rookie Muhammed Irfan. Even though Pakistan lost in Newlands there is plenty they can take from it in terms of personal progress.
Muhammad Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed who have not really found their feet in South Africa face their toughest test yet on the green top of SuperSport park. Both openers have been good with the bat on flatter decks but their technique has been found wanting when the new ball starts talking. Nasir, still very early in his career can improve his footwork; perhaps a season or two of English county would do him good.
Sarfraz Ahmed’s keeping has been decent but he has been very poor with the bat, in his last dismissal he did not appear to even have one. At this rate, the Akmals will be back very soon.
South Africa are without a shadow of doubt the number one team in the world and this dead rubber will only exhibit the extent of their ruthlessness. They rest and rotate their key players in the shorter forms of the game but they take Test cricket as the pinnacle of the sport and give each match its due importance.
South African batsmen got starts but none of them have managed to convert them into big innings in the series. While the Pakistani bowlers should be credited in keeping a tight lid, the Proteas will be looking to change that in the last match of the series.
Their bowling department seems complete with even Peterson raising his hand to be counted on a slow track. Graeme Smith has indicated that with an increase in pace, Vernon Philander could become a better bowler. Given Philander’s record, it is hard to imagine any further improvement but such are the standards being set in the South African outfit.
It is unlikely that South Africa will provide any respite to the visitors; they will look to further stamp authority and go for a likely series white wash.
Misbah may lack aggression and the skills of a tactician but he has risen and become a leader of men. He has found good aid in the chirpy Muhammad Hafeez and the experienced Younis Khan. The absence of multiple captains within the squad has kept ego clashes at bay and made it simpler for Misbah to take much needed advice from his deputy, for instance, putting in a slip when the opposition is reeling.
This series loss is only Misbah-ul-Haq’s second as captain out of nine he had helmed in. His overall record as captain is a little skewed by the quality of opposition and favourable playing conditions but it is still a very good one. Even more impressive is the peace and unity he has brought to the chaotic Pakistani dressing room, the tranquillity he injects might not be quantifiable but is surely invaluable.
When South Africa lost their sixth wicket at Newlands, Ajmal had gotten his 10th scalp of the game. But the entire team’s buoyancy of sending Faf du Plesis back to the hut was not delusive or out of personal glory, it was Misbah-ul-Haq’s Pakistan putting up a fight until its last gasp.
While Misbah and Hafeez make a balanced combination, one without the other might not be as effective. With age fast catching up on Misbah, events leading to a change in captaincy will unfold sooner than later.
Game Changer: To turn this around, Pakistan will have to come out with all guns blazing and surprise South Africa with an aggressive counter punch that hurts. Else, the game is unlikely to change in Pakistan’s favour.
Pre-Game Talk: “Now we are the best team in the world and we don’t get to get beaten. We said that we don’t want to lose any Tests this year.” Gary Kirsten sets a high bar.
Last XI Fielded South Africans: Graeme Smith (capt), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers (wk), Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel
Last XI Fielded Pakistanis: Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Umar Gul, Tanvir Ahmed, Saeed Ajmal, Muhammad Irfan.
South Africa: Kyle Abbott has been named as a replacement to the injured Morne Morkel but Rory Kleinveldt who has been a part of the Test series squad should start ahead of him. No other changes are expected.
Pakistan: Junaid khan is expected to replace Tanvir Ahmed to complete the fast bowling trio that should have been first choice in the first place. In hindsight, Abdur Rehman would have been a good selection at Newlands, but now, it seems he will only end up as a tourist through the Test series along with an experienced globe trotter in Faisal Iqbal.
Final Words: This is South Africa’s favourite hunting ground with the odds stacked up against Pakistan more than ever. Pakistan is known to perform with their backs to the wall but to upset the Proteas, they will have to pull out something really special out of the hat; maybe a few cornered tigers in Africa?