SA v PAK: Pakistan’s chance to test its batting in tour opener

Pakistan’s batsmen will hope to find form and get accustomed to the conditions of South Africa in the three-day tour game in Benoni.

File Photo: Pakistan’s batsmen must be able to establish competitive totals against the South Africans to keep afloat in contests, admit coach Mickey Arthur (left) and captain Sarfraz Ahmed.   -  AP

Pakistan’s batsmen will seek form when they open their tour of South Africa with a three-day match against a South African Invitation XI at Willowmoore Park in Benoni on Wednesday. It is the only game for the tourist before the first of three Tests starts in Centurion on December 26.

Pakistan twice suffered fourth-innings batting collapses in losing a recent Test series against New Zealand in the United Arab Emirates. Both captain Sarfraz Ahmed and coach Mickey Arthur acknowledged on arrival in South Africa that posting competitive totals was crucial if they are to match the host in what is shaping as a battle between two teams with strong bowling attacks.

Read | Sarfraz Ahmed calls on Pakistan to play without fear in South Africa

With the warm-up match clashing with the resumption of South Africa’s four-day franchise competition, the Invitation XI is drawn from the country’s second-tier provincial competition. The opposition is unlikely to be especially challenging, but it is an opportunity for the Pakistanis to get used to local conditions at a ground just 60 kilometres (37 miles) from the venue for the first Test.

‘Talented young batsmen’

Arthur, who coached South Africa from 2005 until 2010, told journalists he believed his young batsmen will cope better with conditions in South Africa than the low, slow pitches of the UAE. “There are some very talented young batsmen there. They don’t stand on leg-stump any more. Our batsmen get to off-stump, they cover the bounce, they cover the pace and they cover the swing.”

Pakistan suffered two fourth-innings collapses in the recently concluded Test series in the UAE against New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images

 

Even so, the Tests are likely to be a major challenge in a country where Pakistan has won only two Tests while losing nine on five tours.

Injury worries

South Africa’s bowling will be spearheaded by Kagiso Rabada and fit-again Dale Steyn, although the host will be without the retired Morne Morkel and Lungi Ngidi, who has a long-term injury. Vernon Philander is ruled out of the first Test because of a hairline fracture on his right thumb.

Pakistan has its own injury concerns, with fast bowler Mohammad Abbas and opening batsman Fakhar Zaman undergoing treatment in a bid to get them fit for the first Test. The Tests will be followed by five One-Day Internationals (ODIs) in which both teams will be looking to settle on combinations ahead of the Cricket World Cup in England and Wales, starting on May 30.

There will also be three Twenty20 Internationals — a format in which Pakistan tops the international rankings.

Test squad
  • Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (c/wk), Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Shan Masood, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Rizwan, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Yasir Shah.

Fixtures
  • December 19-21: SA Invitation XI, Benoni
  • December 26-30: First Test, Centurion
  • January 3-7: Second Test, Cape Town
  • January 11-15: Third Test, Johannesburg
  • January 19: First ODI, Port Elizabeth
  • January 22: Second ODI, Durban
  • January 25: Third ODI, Centurion
  • January 27: Fourth ODI, Johannesburg
  • January 30: Fifth ODI, Cape Town
  • February 1: First T20 International, Cape Town
  • February 3: Second T20 International, Johannesburg
  • February 6: Third T20 International, Centurion.