Match: South Africa v Pakistan, 1st Test Match Venue: The Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa. Date & Time: February 1st to February 5th, 2013, 13:30 PST / 08:30 GMT
Overall Rivalry: Carnage; South Africa 8 wins, Pakistan 3 wins, 7 Draws Momentum in the last 3 encounters: Stalemate; 3 Draws
Weather Report: Clear on Friday morning, then partly cloudy with chances of thunderstorm and late afternoon rainfall. High of 27 degrees centigrade with winds less than 5 km/h. It might remain overcast and rain could threaten throughout the course of 5 days of scheduled play.
22 Yard Report: Known as the “Bullring” in South Africa due to its intimidating atmosphere, it is the hub of many major sporting activities. Most memorably, this ground hosted the World Cup final in 2003 with Ricky Ponting smashing the Indian bowling to all parts of the ground and later in 2006 South Africa chased down a mammoth 434 in an ODI against the Aussies. The last Test played at this venue produced a thrilling two-wicket win for the Australians. It also marked a stunning debut for teenage Aussie pacer Pat Cummins.
Usually, the mantra at the Wanderers is simple, win the toss and bat. However, Pakistan’s reluctance to bat could provide an interesting scenario if Misbah wins the toss under possible cloud cover.
Game On: Having lost three and drawn one series out of the four played, South Africa remains unconquered territory for the Pakistani cricket team. They will look to change an abysmal record of 2 wins and 6 loses out of the 9 tests played in the country.
In a heap of disappointments of almost two decades in South Africa, Pakistan will take heed from the two wins; one at Kingsmead in 1998 and the other at St George’s Park in 2007. These matches are fondly remembered for the fiery spells of Shoaib Akhter and Mohammed Asif partnering with the guile of Mushtaq Ahmed and Danish Kaneria respectively; the fantastic four accounted for 32 wickets in two games.
It is traditionally a common notion that Pakistan‘s bowling attack is their key to success. Though the underlying factor that goes amiss is their fragile batting that loses more games than their bowling is able to win.
Only three Pakistanis have scored a century in South Africa, two of those centuries from Saeed Anwar and Azhar Mehmood contributed to a win along with a match winning 92* by Inzamam-ul-haq where he scored 61 out of 74 runs in a 10th wicket stand with Mohammad Asif. The only hundred that came in a losing cause was from the bat of Taufeeq Umar who has now been ruled out of the tour with injury. It is simple enough, the Pakistani batting has to fire for any chance of a win.
From Pakistan’s previous tour to South Africa in 2007 only Younis khan, Mohammed Hafeez and Faisal Iqbal have returned in 2013. With two modest half-centuries in 22 innings they average 33.88, 16.5 and 11.3 respectively. The rest of the squad is relatively alien to the conditions and will be put to test against Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander who with a skill set of pace, bounce and swing make the most lethal fast bowling trio in current cricket. Infamous for being brittle against quick short pitch bowling and lateral movement, the Pakistani batsmen will immediately need to get their heads and feet in motion.
The South African clique of Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers along with the unassailable Hashim Amla arguably also form the strongest batting line up in the world. Interestingly, the four are also the only surviving members of the team from Pakistan’s previous visit. Umar Gul will need to employ his experience, Junaid khan his youth and Mohammad Irfan every inch of his 2 meter body to make inroads into the Proteas batting order.
Pakistan might feel that Saeed Ajmal could yet again be their trump card especially because South Africans have historically been poor players of spin. However, gone are the days of South African spin bunnies; this batting line up recently nullified the Graeme Swann effect with relative ease.
South Africa is deservingly the number one Test team in the world and will go in as clear favourites. Pakistan on the other hand has been on a surprisingly good run which has placed them in the top four in Test rankings. A team devoid of super stars has blossomed around younger hard working cricketers like Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq under the stable leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq. With energies finally being channelled in the right direction, this Pakistani bunch with a good balance of youth and experience is more than capable of pulling of an upset.