ABU DHABI - Both Pakistan and South Africa squads chose to go through rigorous net sessions at the Shaikh Zayed Cricket Stadium on Sunday, a clear indication of how serious the teams were taking the two-match Test series.
For Pakistan, it is familiar terrain as the UAE has been their second home for the past four years, but their inexperienced openers will have to play out of their skins against the top-ranked Test side and weather an extremely potent new-ball attack. Khurram Manzoor, in all likelihood, will open with Ahmad Shahzad, whose 66 in Sharjah for Pakistan A made him the front-runner for the slot.
What will be playing on Misbahul Haq and team management’s minds will be that they have tried six different combinations in seven Tests so far and none have proved effective. However, if this pair clicks against Dale Steyn and company then certainly Pakistan are in with a chance as veterans Younus Khan and Misbah look in a perfect frame of mind and can make opponents pay if they get their significant experience into play.
The bowling department will once be heavily relying on Saeed Ajmal, which has been the case for the some time now. The Proteas, who tackled Ajmal well in their own backyard earlier this year, will certainly be more watchful on these spin-friendly desert tracks but will not want him to dictate terms.
The Proteas batsman who has played Ajmal best has to be Hashim Amla, who rarely fails to deliver even in the harshest conditions. Pakistan will hence be hoping to see Amla’s back quickly. “Ajmal is a good bowler anywhere around the world and given the home conditions he will be a bit of a handful here,” said veteran Jacques Kallis. “He is probably among the three or four bowlers who can knock us over here. “We are not looking at one bowler, we are looking at a team. We will have to make sure that we are at the top of our game.”
Kallis, despite coming after a three-month leisure break, got into the groove to score a fluent 70 in the only warm-up game and announced that he is in the ‘best form ever’. Skipper Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy are all capable of taking the match away from the opposition on their day.
If Pakistan are to have sniff of a chance, Ajmal will definitely need firm support from his pacers Junaid Khan and M Irfan, should they decide to go in with two spinners and two fast bowlers. A spell of four overs in full throttle is what the former Pakistan paceman and currently UAE coach Aaqib Javed has suggested for the pacers. “I want them to bowl four overs at full pace and try and get the breakthrough,” he said. “These are testing conditions for fast bowlers and they will need longer breaks. You might only get 16 overs maximum from each but if they can get a couple of wickets while doing that, nothing like it.” Smith was very critical of the wicket last time round in 2010 and though the chief curator chose to remain silent on the issue, the wicket is expected to play true.