ABU DHABI – South Africa and Pakistan gear up for next year’s World Cup with a five-match one-day series starting here from Friday, as captains Graeme Smith and Shahid Afridi urged their teams to keep focus.
South Africa are in top form after thumping a hapless Zimbabwe 3-0 in a one-day series at home and beat Pakistan in both the Twenty20 matches here comfortably in a prelude to the 50-over matches.
Smith, who handed Twenty20 captaincy to Johan Botha last month to prolong his career, said development of the side is key ahead of the 2011 World Cup to be jointly hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh starting February.
“It will be the first taste of the sub-continent conditions before the World Cup,” Smith said of the series here. “South Africa is keen on the development of the side before the World Cup and are excited to be here.”
South Africa, one of the top teams not to have won the World Cup, will also play two Tests in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in a series shifted to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) due to security fears in Pakistan.
Smith hoped cricket would remain in focus after Pakistan’s recent tour of England marred by spot-fixing allegations which damaged the game at international level.
“We hope cricket would be played the right way and in the end it will be cricket that makes the headlines for the performances on the field,” said Smith, whose team is playing in the UAE for the first time since 2000.
Three Pakistan players – Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer – were suspended by the International Cricket Council over allegations of spot-fixing during August’s Lord’s Tests against England.
Afridi admitted Pakistan team would miss the three suspended players.
“There is no doubt that they are our key players and we are going to miss them, but we have plenty of talent and we will try our best to overcome that loss because World Cup is so close,” said Afridi, who played down Twenty20 defeats.
“We batted poorly in both the games, but we are a good one-day side and if we play to our potential we can beat South Africa,” said Afridi, whose team also lost both the Twenty20 matches and five-match one-day series in England.
Afridi said his players were focused and would not let the team down.
“What happened on the England tour is now past and this is a new series and a new challenge for which we are fully focused,” said Afridi.
South Africa still sweat on the fitness of fast bowler Dale Steyn and all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who both missed the Twenty20 series due to injuries.
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (capt), Imran Farhat, Shahzaib Hasan, Mohammad Hafeez, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Misbah-ul-Haq, Fawad Alam, Abdul Razzaq, Zulqarnain Haider, Umar Gul, Shoaib Akhtar, Wahab Riaz, Tanveer Ahmed, Saeed Ajmal, Abdul Rehman
South Africa: Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Johan Botha, Jean-Paul Duminy, Colin Ingram, Jacques Kallis, Charl Langeveldt, David Miller, Albie Morkel, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pakistan) and Rodney Tucker (Australia)
TV umpire: Zameer Haider (Pakistan)
Match referee: Andy Pycroft (Zimbabwe)?