SA may expose raw Pakistan batting

Mohammad Amir (Getty Images)
Mohammad Amir (Getty Images)

Cape Town – Nine Test appearances between all of them in South Africa … and just one century to show on our soil.

That is the less than ideal track record the touring Pakistan squad bring with them for the three-match series against the Proteas, starting at SuperSport Park, Centurion, on Boxing Day.

Three players sport a trio of caps each in South Africa: captain and wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed, as well as more specialist batsmen Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq.

All were part of the similar, three-Test 2012/13 series when these foes last met on our shores, and the hosts romped to a 3-0 series sweep by fairly emphatic margins each time.

The Pakistani class of 2018/19 had better hope that natural talent – usually not something that country lacks – comes strongly to the fore in the latest bilateral series, bearing in mind that the side who visited six years ago struggled to be competitive even with an array of seasoned figures in their batting ranks, in particular.

That outfit was led by Misbah-ul-Haq, who later retired from Tests aged 43 in 2017, and included other gnarly figures at the crease like Younis Khan, Pakistan’s all-time leading runs-scorer with 10,099 at 52.05, and Mohammad Hafeez.

But they were well beaten anyway, and it must be a slightly scary thought to their supporters that the 2018/19 party is precariously short of know-how when it comes to South Africa’s conditions in the five-day format.

Both Ali (sixth) and Shafiq (ninth) are among the top ten for historical weight of Test runs by Pakistanis, and reassuring presences on this tour just for that reason.

But that hardly makes them masters of SA surfaces, either: Shafiq boasts the only century of the present squad here, the 111 he notched at Newlands in the second Test on the last visit, while Ali’s best South African effort is 65 at the same venue during that clash.

All of the other frontline Pakistani batsmen in action over the next few weeks will be tasting Test activity here for the first time, although opener Shan Masood did make 75 on debut against the very Proteas when they played a series in the United Arab Emirates in 2013 (Abu Dhabi).

Undoubtedly the main topic of conversation when it comes to their attack will be the presence of in-form leg-spinner Yasir Shah, who hit the headlines a few days ago by becoming the fastest bowler of all time to reach 200 Test scalps.

He did it during the just-completed “home” series (in the UAE) against New Zealand, despite the Black Caps registering an upset 2-1 triumph.

Shah achieved the distinction in his 33rd Test, beating the 36 required by previous, long-time record-holder Clarrie Grimmett of Australia, another leg-break specialist who had earned the landmark against South Africa in Johannesburg back in 1936.

But for all his obvious prowess and the clear threat he will pose to the Proteas if there is even a hint of turn on offer during the coming series, Shah has not yet played against South Africa, anywhere, in any of the three formats.

He does have some southern African know-how, having played five one-day internationals – he bagged figures of six for 26 at Harare in 2015 – plus two of the T20 variety in Zimbabwe.

Pakistan have reinstated dangerous left-arm fast bowler Mohammad Amir to their plans for the tour, although his own 33-Test career also includes no activity against the Proteas yet.

The 26-year-old was serving a five-year ban (he also had six months in jail in the UK) for involvement in a spot-fixing scandal when the countries last locked horns, either in South Africa or the UAE.

But Amir has played three ODIs on SA soil, even if all were against other foes (West Indies, New Zealand, India) during the 2009 Champions Trophy, the last time our country hosted a major ICC event.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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