Playing a Test match after a long time – the last was almost six months ago – the South Africans believe they need to do the basics properly to be successful against Pakistan in the first Test starting here tomorrow.
“Whether we are batting first or bowling first you’d like to lay a good platform for ourself for the rest of the Test. So what I’m talking about is not looking too far ahead, but being in those moments and capitalising on what we are doing,” captain Graeme Smith said yesterday.
The South Africans, who are the No 1 side on the ICC Test rankings, have prepared thoroughly over the past week and go into their first encounter after a long winter break at full strength as JP Duminy, who missed a considerable number of games with an Achilles tendon injury, returns while Dean Elgar sits out and Faf de Plessis moves into a crucial No 7 spot in the long batting line-up.
“You’ve also got to be realistic as we have not played together for six months and it might take a bit of time to get to the standards where we were last season when we were playing a lot of competitive cricket under pressure and where we were battle hardened, Smith said.
“We might take a bit of time to get there but we have certainly covered all our bases in our preparations. We have done everything we can and we hope that we can put it into performance when the Test match starts.
“Our goal is to put Pakistan under pressure and that’s something we’ve been able to do to most oppositions. We’ve been able to handle pressure well and exert a lot more on our opposition. That’s something we’d like to do over the next five days.”
Smith realises that he is up against a wounded Pakistan outfit and there have been a few good performances in recent Tests against Zimbabwe, especially from the talented veteran Younis Khan and spinners like Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman and now a new face in Zulfiqar Barbar in their bowling too.
But he would like to worry about his own performances rather than think of what the Pakistan side have on their minds. The South Africans have no doubt been well-drilled in the hot and humid conditions and if their batsmen perform like the way they did in the warm-up game against the Pakistan A-side there will be little to worry about for the Proteas captain.
The return of Jacques Kallis after a long break was like getting back into the groove without a real problem during the past week while Hashim Amla, Alviro Peterson, Duminy and even AB de Villiers showed no ring rust in the three-day outing.
“We’ve had chats around the Pakistan bowlers and how we’d like to play them from a game plan point of view – technically, tactically – and the challenge is always to get it right in the middle,” Smith said.
He has little worries over his bowling as Smith has world-class pacemen in Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander who have blasted away the best batting line-ups in the past season or so. And there’s able back-up to call on as well.
Meanwhile, Misbah-ul-Haq realises the enormity of this two-match Test series as captain of Pakistan. He came under fire after losing 3-0 to South Africa but worse was to follow when he left Zimbabwe recently with a 1-1 draw.
“We understand the pressure that we are under but having prepared well each players knows his responsibility against the strong South African team,” he said. - Sunday Independent