Pakistan seeks a miracle in Centurion
Since South Africa’s re-admission into ICC, it has previously invited Pakistan on five Test tours and emerged winners on each occasion. The two Test victories achieved by the touring teams were back in 1998 (Durban) and 2007 (Port Elizabeth).
The present Pakistan squad does not seem to have enough firepower in either batting or bowling, to upset the odds. A poor start in the opening encounter at Centurion on the Boxing Day, could well pave the way for an embarrassing whitewash, in the three-Test series.
In the dark days of apartheid South Africa only played England, Australia and New Zealand – three white nations but thankfully since 1991, it has opened the doors to all international opponents, to the great delight of cricket fans. Not only that, the rainbow nation as South Africa was described by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has truly become a multiracial team, embracing players from all ethnic backgrounds – white, black, coloured and Asian.
Pakistan, without its potent pace bowler, Mohammad Abbas ruled out due to a shoulder injury, is clearly on the back foot. Without Abbas, the touring team resembles a toothless tiger. Bowling coach Azhar Mahmood’s experience of playing in South Africa could inspire the attack now in the hands of Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Afridi, Hasan Ali and Yasir Shah.
Looking at their poor Test record in the recent past, Sarfraz Ahmed’s side are clearly underdogs against a high-ranking opposition. With all due respect to the playing squad and the team management, it would seem fair to say that each and every individual is on trial. A poor tour of South Africa might even force a change in the selection committee that is increasingly under pressure to introduce the best talent from the domestic circuit.
The prospect of facing Dale Steyn, South Africa’s greatest paceman, returning to his full fitness after an injury lay-off along with equally hostile 23-year old Kagiso Rabada, will send shivers down the spine of any batting line-up in the world. A combination of pace, bounce and movement will pose a real test for Pakistan’s notoriously fragile batting line-up, that has repeatedly failed to come up to expectations, even in their ‘home’ conditions in UAE. What hope do they have in South Africa? It is far from a rosy picture, for a Pakistani fan.
The left-handed opening pair of Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman, both still trying to find their feet in international arena, will need to play out of their skins to stand any chance of success. There will also not be any easy passages of play for the middle order consisting of Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam. Big hundreds and 6-8 hours stay at the crease, should be the minimum aim for the batsmen. Only steely determination would erase the painful memories, including 49 all out in Johannesburg, of Pakistan’s last Test series in South Africa, in 2012-13.
The over-reliance on ‘individual brilliance’ has often landed Pakistan into trouble and overseas Test series have become a nightmare. One hopes it is not the case in the forthcoming three-Test series between the two countries. Could Pakistan conjure up magic when completely written off by critics, remains to be seen.