Azhar Ali: He is the sort of player who will put the shutters down, curb his attacking instincts, try to be faultless, relentless, chanceless in his approach, be content of staying in and lasting the duration and above all ensure he maintains his composure once established and settled at the wicket having successfully survived the hard yards up front. In his grafty and gritty ways, he is a prized wicket. The 'glue' is willing to battle for his runs by earning the right to score through solid defensive occupation. The art of risk averse, patient, long, repetitive, old fashioned batsmanship has gone out of the window in this day and age, making such players unique. Azhar reminds us of what batting used to be about and how useful it can be to have such players in your side. However, he is no Chris Tavare, Trevor Bailey, Javed Omar, Jimmy Adams or Aakash Chopra in the sense that he can 'up it' every now and again, although defence is his forte. The one down grinding run machine was Pakistan's leading run getter in 2012 with 3 centuries. He also faced the most deliveries by a member of the side in the year, possessed the highest average & got 3 figures the most number of times.
Taufeeq Umar: 2nd most experienced player in the batting line up as far as test caps is concerned. Under some pressure with his place in the side with Nasir's emergence in the shorter forms of the game. Previous success and experience of playing South Africa in their back yard should help him. Taufeeq will be important in the slip cordon if the bowlers are on the money. Currently we are going through a phase in Pakistan Cricket where the current opening pairs in both Tests and ODIs have put on a record number of 100+ stands for the first wicket by a Pakistani opening pair: Hafeez and Taufeeq (Tests) and Jamshed and Hafeez (ODIs).
Umar Gul: Experienced seamer, not a great test bowler, but will play. Had a shocking previous series against Sri Lanka where his strike was 372 for the series, but Gul will lead the seam attack here. Pakistan fans will hope rather than expect him to produce some good spells. I've highlighted him here because of the nature of the conditions, his experience & the fact that there will be serious questions posed about his test future if he has a poor series here. To be fair to him under Misbah he has performed reasonably well - 13 wickets in 2 tests in New Zealand, 14 in 3 tests against the Lankans at ‘home’ and 11 in the 3 tests against England at ‘home.’ Given Pakistan haven’t played much outside Asia, Gul will enjoy some friendlier seam bowling conditions on the fast and bouncy pitches. It will come as a fresh change to both him and his more inexperienced, but talented seam bowling partners.
Younis Khan: With all the trials, tribulations, and personal tragedies in his life it’s admirable how far Younis has gone. The visitors can ill afford their strongest player on reputation over an extended career to have a below par series. Younis resurrected his test career against South Africa during his come-back match after missing 12 consecutive tests where he scored an unbeaten match saving century in Pakistan's highest posting of a 4th innings total at the Dubai Sports City. Younis also played a vital role in his side's test win in 2007 here. Like Taufeeq, Younis will be busy trying to hang on to those edges that come his way in the slip cordon.
Dale Steyn: Highly skilful bowler who recently joined the 300 club for test match wickets and got there with a Jaffa. I am anticipating that he will be the leading wicket taker in the series. Steyn has been one of the leading contributors behind SAs rise to gaining the number 1 test spot. In England last summer in the highly anticipated test series of 2012, Steyn was adjudged joint player of the series award alongside Matt Prior. In short, Dale is one of the best around who Smith can always turn to, a proven match winning performer.
Jacques Kallis: Man of the series and man of the match in the 2007 decider/series against Pakistan. With every series he plays the argument of him becoming the greatest all-rounder increases. Is there a better sight than an expansive cover drive with a high left elbow and full follow through from the big unit? The sub continental visitors need be wary of his short ball which he sets up and throws in to good effect. The best slip catcher from either side on show, too. This man is THE biggest player on show from either side.
Morne Morkel: The Giraffe! Not the tallest player on show though for a change as Mohammad Irfan has been selected in the tourist’s squad. Morkel enjoys bowling to left handers and I can see him causing Taufeeq a problem or two from around the wicket like he did to Strauss last summer. More erratic than Steyn, but Rahul Dravid mentioned how that makes him an even bigger threat because you never know what to expect whereas with Steyn you know what you will get.
Hashim Amla: ICC player of the year and test player of the year short-listed nominee for the ceremony in Sri Lanka last year. Highly respectable role model and ambassador for CSA and considered a potential future leader having had youth and domestic experience in the job. Strong back foot player, sublime wrist work, tight defence, and a specialist forward short leg always under the batsmen’s noses with the green lid on.
Note: Ajmal has not been highlighted just to take the attention away from him for a change