Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Preview- South Africa versus Pakistan Test Series

The fairytale like resurrection of the Pakistan Team in recent years has been nothing short of startling with it warming the hearts of Cricket fans globally. A 3 Test series away to number 1 Team South Africa offers a continuation to that virtual 'Fairy-Tale' with it having two differing endings. From a 'happily ever after' in the wake of victory or their high calibre hosts morphing into the monsters that always reside in these tales.

Two thoughts that set the table for what looms as a potentially classic series between the undisputed champ and an unexpected challenger. A challenger that has real appeal because of the unknown still attached to them with Pakistan having bordered on 'boring' in recent times which has been the basis of their success with the slow and steady attritional cricket they play.

But their playing ranks still have that intangible X Factor that could turn this series on its ear like we saw against the then number 1 England at the same time last year.

The Venues/ Pitches


1st Test: South Africa v Pakistan at Johannesburg 
Feb 1-5, 2013 (10:30 local | 08:30 GMT | 19:30 EST | 19:00 CST | 16:30 WST)
2nd Test: South Africa v Pakistan at Cape Town 
Feb 14-18, 2013 (10:30 local | 08:30 GMT | 19:30 EST | 19:00 CST | 16:30 WST)
3rd Test: South Africa v Pakistan at Centurion 
Feb 22-26, 2013 (10:30 local | 08:30 GMT | 19:30 EST | 19:00 CST | 16:30 WST)

Hehe, it seems that the South African's have had enough of their Bogey venue in Durban and given it the flick.

One thing that these venues will ensure is a series that with be devoid of the shameful Road Pitches that are the bane of Test Cricket. They will favour the bowlers, and in particular the seamers meaning it will be a bowling dominated series that will be decided by which Teams batsmen can with stand the fury of both Teams exceptional attacks

Another certainty is you know that in view of Pakistan's much vaunted spin arsenal that the pitches will  be prepared to kill any advantage to the slow men.

The Squads

South Africa


South Africa squad: Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Jacques Kallis, Rory Kleinveldt, Morne Morkel, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Jacques Rudolph, Dale Steyn.


The return on Vernon Philander completes a high calibre trio of quicks in company of Dale Steyn and the vastly under rated Morne Morkel. They have taken a more conservative approach with their spinner with the more attack minded Imran Tahir, who was flayed in Australia foregone with the defensive style of Robin Petersen preferred. Petersen, not only offers a holding bowler that creates pressure to facilitate the success of the quicks, but adds a very handy tail-end batsmen to the Team.


On the batting side it is very strong with its only weakness being the number 6 position to be contested by either Jacques Rudolph or Dean Elgar. Rudolph seems a better bet with Elgar looking like a bunny against the short stuff which never is a recipe for success against a bowling attack as accomplished as Pakistan's


Pakistan

Squad: Misbah-ul Haq (capt), Mohammad Hafeez, Azhar Ali, Nasir Jamshed, Asad Shafiq, Younis Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Sarfraz Ahmed, Umar Gul, Junaid Khan, Ehsan Adil, Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman, Haris Sohail, Faisal Iqbal, Taufiq Umar.

The Squad was symbolised by the lack of any Akmals- most notably incumbent wicket keeper Adnan Akmal whose place has been taken by Sarfraz Ahmed. Although Adnan's omission was met by opposition by many, it appears that Sarfraz was selected on the basis of his higher standard of batting.

One name on the lips of all Pakistani lips is Nasir Jamshed after him dominating in a recent ODI series against arch rival India.

Leaving the Pakistani Selectors to judge the context of that performance. With them either highlighting the class he showed in it and including him or dismissing it due to it being scored in a very substandard form of the game and against a very weak Indian bowling unit.

Assessing the Teams Batting

South Africa


The hosts without a doubt have the best batting line up in Test Cricket

A line up that has been symbolised by many greats in it, but has been improved of late by the inclusion of Faf Du Plessis and the improvements in Alviro Petersen's batting.

Both have been a God sends to the Team.

Firstly Petersen is showing more and more that he can be a long term partner for Graeme Smith at the top of the order. His only failing has been his lapses in concentration that has seen him throw away innings when he has had the opposition at his mercy with a few very soft dismissals in Australia recently highlighting this.

Against a very diverse and high quality Pakistan attack this could be the making of him

As for Du Plessis, his career is still in its infancy, but my word has he looked good. A throwback batsman in the traditional mould with a mind as sound as a pristine Swiss Watch.

A good comparison would be labelling him the South African Michael Hussey.

These two impressive individuals have taken the pressure off the incumbent stars in the Team allowing them to be more decisive in their Mastery.

Do we really need to write anything about Mssrs Kallis and Amla or do we just bow in silent awe of their consistent excellence?

Amidst all these batting riches, I still see the Captain and Opener Graeme Smith as their batting King Pin. He seems to control the tempo of the batting in the Team as seen in Australia recently with the batting having a series of struggles in what could be put down to a let down series for the team after their Super Human efforts in England. He was the one that led their charge in the decisive third Test in Perth with his pro active batting that inspired all to attack.

A brilliant and unfairly under rated player

Of concern for the Team is the troublesome number 6 spot with both Dean Elgar and Jacques Rudolph looking out of their depth in this company. Things complicated by the Teams powers that be burdening A B DeVilliers with the wicket keeping responsibilities rather than choosing a specialist keeper and back the strengthened tail backed up by Robin Petersen.

Any one for Quinton De Kock????????????????????????????

Rating- 8.5


The batting is proven in all conditions and has stood the test of time as well. The only concerns are the number 6 position and the effect that keeping has had on A B DeVilliers batting. Away from the top 7, the tail is very strong with it being more than capable of contributing valuable runs in tight low scoring Test matches. 

Pakistan

Can the Pakistani batting line up can adapt to the conditions as well as being proficient against the high class South African bowling in bowling favoured conditions?

The answer to this question will define the series and the Teams relative chances in it.

The answer to this is a bit like two sides to a story with the key for success in the fast and bouncy conditions like will be found here is patience and technique. The ability to embrace the skill of the leave facilitated by a sound temperament gets batsmen through the initial fury that they all feel when they get to the middle. But when they do adapt, the conditions actually suit the batsmen with the ball coming onto the bat and the consistency of the bounce.

In Pakistan's favour is their embrace of traditional batting with all of their batsmen being dour, resilient and take no risk types. If anything batting in these confines might not only have their demeanour as the basis for success as well as dispelling the main criticism of Pakistan's recent batting in that it becomes too dour and lacking balance because of this. This seen in the highest strike rate of the top 6 being 55.01 by Mohammad Hafees with only one more of the top 6 being above 50.

It is crucial that in this series that they are more pro active in their batting and ironically the conditions might propel this

Selection will impact on this before a ball is bowled with a push for Nasir Jamshed's to be included in the Team at the top of the order in the place of Taufeeq Umar. It will be a tough decision based on how stable the Hafees/Taufeeq opening pair has been for a long while. But supported by the signs of class Nasir has shown making people think of how he could improve the Team through his attacking mannerisms. It seems likely that this decision will be made in the face of Taufeeq only averaging 24.6 in 2012

The batting which has been justifiably questioned in regards to their ability to adapt has also been vastly under rated

Highlighted by arguably the most under rated player of the Modern Age in Younis Khan ( YK ) who will be primed to excel here. He is the established class in the Teams batting and will to a large part hold its destiny in his able hands

Supporting him will be the precocious youngsters in Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali, who have been groomed beautifully in recent years, and now are starting to become very accomplished Test batsmen. This series could quite literally be their coming out party with them going from the ranks of the virtual unknowns to being viewed as the next big things

Away from the top 6 of concern is the fragility in the tail with the highest average of players who batted from 8-11 in 2012 being 10.62. Culminating this obvious weakness was the batting frailty of Adnan Akmal with an average of 25.25 in the keeping position at 7 meaning there is an unhealthy reliance on the Teams top 6.

The inclusion of Sarfraz Ahmed replacing Adnan Akmal behind the stumps has obviously been made with this in mind.

Rating 7/10 


The batting has been labelled as questionable by most in the lead up to this series. Which is understandable with a number of factors in mind, but I just think that they might actually appreciate the conditions and not only survive, but take it a step forward and threaten on occasion to thrive

Look for Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq to announce themselves in this series

A huge key will be the performance of the 7-11 batsmen with them having to contribute to the cause for if it is '7 out..all out..' as has been the case for Pakistan that will be decisive in this clash


Assessing the Teams Bowling

South Africa

You could make a case that the trio of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander is the best the game has seen in a good long while

They not only are a high skilled trio, but balance each other out beautifully.

With Steyn being the leader of the attack with a resume that defines him as one of the most complete bowlers the game has seen.

Philander being that old style line and length hit the top of off bowler that in an Age where batsmen are so willing to forsake temperament and technique in favour of flash over matches most

Then there is Morne Morkel, the enforcer of the bunch with his pace and rearing bounce, and vastly under rated on the World scene because of the limelight taken by the afore mentioned two.

This trio will be a nightmare for any batting line up and could be a decisive enough factor to win the series by their combined brilliance

BUT

If they are neutralised in the series to a level that allows Pakistan's batting to be proficient it will expose a soft under belly in the hosts bowling unit.

I say this firstly because of the questions over Jacques Kallis fitness to bowl in a manner he has in the past coupled with the Teams unwillingness to over burden him in this stage of his career.

This factor made more pertinent by the absence of a spinner of note with Imran Tahir being exposed as a pie chucker in Australia and replaced by Robin Petersen. A bowler that is big hearted and will never let the Team down, but by the same token you could never see him being a factor against Test standard batting.


Rating- 8/10
The pace arsenal is frighteningly good, but the lack of variety in terms of a viable spin option puts an unhealthy reliance on them for the Team wickets.

Which is not usually a factor because they are that damn good

But..........................


Pakistan 
There has been a huge amount of hype attached to this Pakistani attack with it on paper being one of the most complete and varied attacks seen

They just have everything from a pace and spin regard with both right and left armers a plenty.

The main question being whether they can live up to the hype against such an accomplished South African batting line up?

I say without a shadow of a doubt- YES

Just by the fact that all the pacemen have had to ply their trades for the most parts on unforgiving batting friendly roads and to be let loose on bowling friendly decks in South Africa will be like winning Lotto for them.

The one thing that will go against them is the likely sacrificing of Abdur Rehman in favour of an extra paceman. A bowler that has lived in the shadows of his spin twin Saeed Ajmal, but has taken
61 wickets at an average of 24.76 in the last two years.


Who the Team picks as his replacement will be a decisive decision in this series. All the fans want the 7'1 Giant Mohammad Irfan, whose height would allow him to get the type of rearing bounce that would be a nightmare when coupled with his 140 km pace. I think his inclusion would be a huge mistake with him lacking the fitness that is so needed in tests as well as bowling a few nice balls in his debut ODI series against India that has blinded most to his current truth.

The hysterical response that these were greeted by covered the fact that he was for the most part very average ( 3 wickets @ an average of 44 )

A better option would be Ehsan Adil, a young right arm quick that would provide a perfect balance as a new ball partner with the left arm mastery of Junaid Khan

On the subject of Junaid Khan....in a word- SPECIAL

Lastly, there is Saeed Ajmal, who the hosts will do everything in their power to nullify through the pitches killing any favour for spin.

Which under estimates the penetration he will get on pitches that have pace and bounce.

Expect him to occupy more than a few South African nightmares in this series........

Rating- 8.5

Strong in both spin and pace and so much variety

If they all perform the attack could be one of the best ever seen


Prediction

First and foremost I think this will be a classic series with it almost impossible to pick a winner

On the one hand, you have a South African Team that is hard to get a grasp on with them being Super Human in England followed by being very average for the most in Australia

Followed by partaking in a farcical series against a New Zealand Team that was the standard of a Kaapstad under 15's girls side

Going up against a Pakistan side that most are choosing to doubt without realising that they are a very accomplished Team on the rise

I believe in them, and think there is plenty of improvement in them as well

Improvement that will be seen here and lead them to a shock series win

2/1 to Pakistan

13 comments:

  1. Tim, for the most part I agree BUT... Elgar & Duminy are fighting it out for the no.7 spot in the SA batting line up, not No.6. Faf bats at six with AB at 5. Also surprising that you rate the Pakistan bowling attack higher than the SA attack? We have 3 of the top 10 ICC ranked test bowlers in our side including number 1 & 2.

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  2. Duminy can bring some part time (ever improving) off spin to the side which may swing the pendulum in his favor if he's fit again.

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    Replies
    1. Agree on everything you said about Duminy, but at present he is not fit. So it is a choice between rudolph/Elgar

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    2. Yes for number 7 - Not 6 Tim

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  3. Individual Batting Predictions
    Pak
    Azhar: 280 run at average of above 45 (4 50+ scores and over 700 deliveries faced in series)
    Younis: 230 runs at average of above 35 (1 century along the way)
    Shafiq: 200 runs at average of 50 (2 50s and a couple of NOs)
    Misbah: 170 run at average of 30 odd (400 deliveries of grit, determination at the wicket, odd not out, 1 50)
    Taufeeq: 150 runs at average of 20 odd (1 century though)
    Hafeez: 90 runs at average of 15 (walking wicket)
    SA
    Smith: 200 runs at an average of 33 (1 50)
    Alviro: 220 runs at an average of 35 (1 50)
    Amla: 300 runs at an average of 50 (2 100s)
    Kallis: 250 runs at an average of high 40s (1 100 and 2 50s)
    ABD: 230 runs at an average of high 40s (2 50s)
    Faf: 220 runs at an average in the high 30s (2 50s, odd not out)
    Edgar: 80 runs at an average of 13 (no 50s)

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    Replies
    1. I guess Jamshaid would open with Hafeez.

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  4. Very nyc article.....very true.....
    Pak vs SA one of the most awaited series should b a perfect example of high quality cricket quality.....wth evrythng in it...
    As has been the case wth Pakistan, this series too will revolve around bowlers.....
    Pakistan shud play positively n try to get around 300 ....
    Despite africans nullifying Ajmal effect wth fast and bouncy wkts, he ll be an imp factor.....cuz he really bowled well and took fer in his comeback match against Eng in tht controversial series....
    Junaid Khan will be very imp factor too for Pakistan......
    Also Pak should prefer Jamshed over Taufeeq despite some gud openings wth Hafeez....cuz Pak desperately need a high quality opener who ll stay at crease and keep score board ticking rather than Taufeeq jus getting 30s or 40s....
    Wht abut SA......perfect test team....this should defo b a challenge for Pak bt i hope they ll do best...
    Gud luck Greens...i mean Pak....

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    1. It will be a great series Ishfaq, and i think Pakistan can match South Africa and beat them. They have brilliant bowling in both pace and spin and their batting has great potential. Asad and Azhar Ali are two of the brightest talents in World Cricket.

      Thank you so much for the comment and kind words on my article :)

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  5. I think there's a bigger gap between South Africa and Pakistan's batting than what you've mentioned. 7 and 8.5 is too close. 6 and 8.5 looks more realistic.
    Although most of the Pakistani batsmen look good on paper, a batting collapse is ALWAYS a possibility with Pakistan.

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    1. In hindsight i think you are right in that view, but I have marked Pakistan up on what I see them capable of doing. In regards to the improvements from youngsters like Asad and Azhar and Jamshed's imput.

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  6. A lot of people generally think that Pakistan will be white washed in this series, but what they don't recognize and what i think you've picked up in this write-up is the resillience this team has shown. They're actually willing to fight it out. They may not win, but they will make it very hard to lose. A virtue not many teams possess in the flashy world of cricket today. As you highlighted previously, under Misbah Pakistan has lost once in 17 test matches. A Commendable record, to say the least. South Africa too is a team that is very hard to beat, and showed ample quality of resistance in Australia. It will be a tough series, but I am almost certain that Pakistan won't be white washed.

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  7. oh that is a pretty good, complete and well-written post about the preview of South Africa versus Pakistan, I loved to read it!

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  8. Yeah. That's something all right. Thanks, I really enjoyed your post.

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