“Unsurprisingly, the batting is Pakistan’s weakest link, but their ability to surprise and overcome the conditions, something they effortlessly managed to do in England this year, will give them the much-needed confidence boost”
Nine Test appearances between them in South Africa and just one hundred to show for it is the less than ideal track record that the current Pakistani squad will carry with them as they head into the first Test in the Rainbow Nation, that begins at SuperSport Park at Centurion from Boxing Day.
Only three touring members, Sarfraz Ahmed, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq have played three Tests in the land – way back in 2012/13, where the Men in Green were romped emphatically to end the series with a 0-3 margin. Even though that outfit was led by Misbah-ul-Haq and had players like Younis Khan in the ranks, the side was unable to survive in the seaming conditions and with the current squad hardly inspiring with their batting displays, even at ‘home’ in UAE, their skills or the lack of it stand to be exposed once the two teams face-off on December 26.
The lack of experience in playing in South Africa is not going to work in their favour either, and though Ali and Shafiq – the sixth highest and the ninth highest run-scorers for Pakistan in the history of Test cricket – had scored 65 and 111 at Newlands in the second Test, respectively five seasons ago, that hardly makes them masters of the South African pitches.
Like most subcontinental teams, Pakistan too have a history of performing poorly in SENA nations (South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia). The side has a batting average of only 26.74 since they played their first Test in any of the aforementioned countries in 1954. This average is relatively lower than West Indies’ average of 27.85 in SENA (numbers bolstered by the performances of the pack of mighty cricketers the nation had in the 70s and 80s) and India’s average that stands at 27.05.
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The batting display of Pakistan in SENA slips to a paltry 23.95 in the last decade, which is even below Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and West Indies’ efforts on the bouncy tracks. However, this average rises albeit slightly to 25.97 in the last five years, with the unit scoring seven centuries in England and Australia in the last two years. This summer’s tour to England further reinforced the natural talent that the nation possesses, but to all those who have been following the game, Pakistan’s unpredictability has long surpassed skills.
When we look at performances in South Africa, Pakistan has managed to average only 20.77 in their four tours here since 1995 and even though the home side is without Lungi Ngidi and Vernon Philander for the opening game – as both are nursing injuries – Pakistan will know that Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada along with Duanne Olivier, who has a bowling average of 22.54 in First-class games, will not be easy obstacles.
However, the strong bowling attack that Pakistan possess is likely to cause some troubles to the South African unit. In Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali and Faheem Ashraf the visiting side have a lot of firepower. With Abbas and Afridi making life miserable for the touring nations in UAE, where the tracks are comparatively flat and do not help the pacers much, just pondering over the damages that the duo can script on tracks that will have plenty of swing and bounce seems an exciting prospect.
With the South African batsmen looking out of sorts after the retirement of AB de Villiers and with Hashim Amla unable to find his rhythm, the batting does look fragile and it will be the onus of the young pacers from Pakistan to rise to the occasion and grasp the moment. Spinner Yasir Shah might not get much assistance, but his class, coupled with the inability of the Proteas youngsters to play spin effectively and the average of 33.76 that spinners have enjoyed in South Africa, paves the way for the stalwart to pitch in with a historical performance.
Unsurprisingly, the batting is Pakistan’s weakest link, but their ability to surprise and overcome the conditions, something they effortlessly managed to do in England this year, will give them the much-needed confidence boost.