Johannesburg – The description of Pakistan doesn’t change. Their Test record in the last two years may point to consistency, but they remain, even according to one of their senior players, an unpredictable side.
They’re also an unusual side. Their attack for Friday’s first Test is likely to contain a seven foot one inch tall (2.16m), left-arm seam bowler, an off-spinner and a right-arm swing bowler. Their batting line-up will probably include a talented left-hander at the top of the order making his debut, Nasir Jamshed, a strong and steady No 3 in the shape of Azhar Ali and most important, the experienced middle-order duo of captain Misbah ul-Haq and Younis Khan.
On their day Younis reckons they are capable of mixing it with South Africa. The trouble is no one knows when that day will be. “If we play to our potential then we can provide South Africa with some good competition,” he said. Younis is on his third Test tour of South Africa and knows that in order to counter South Africa, Pakistan will have to take the attack to the hosts.
“We are very positive, we know that to win against South Africa we have to play with a positive frame of mind and play some positive cricket; if we play like that we have a good chance,” the 35-year-old veteran of 79 Tests said.
Younis and Misbah are Pakistan’s most senior players, which has put them firmly in the sights of the South African bowlers. “The make-up of their line-up includes guys who can attack up front and guys in the middle who can bat time,” said Morné Morkel, one of the kingpins of the South African attack.
“They are not just a side who go out and are flashy. It will be hard work. They have experience in the middle with Misbah and Khan. They are the key guys who we will need to target and get early because they can bat time.”
South Africa have had great success exposing opposition teams’ middle orders to the new ball in recent seasons, a philosophy they will look to continue against a team unaccustomed to the bounce and pace of local pitches. Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander are a deadly new ball combination in South African conditions and at the Wanderers where the bounce is so prevalent, touring sides, especially those from the sub-continent, tend to struggle.
“It’s the sort of wicket I’ve enjoyed bowling on, it suits my game,” Morkel remarked unsurprisingly. “You speak to any batter, a guy who is over two metres tall, it’s about the bounce he gets, it’s not about the pace, but that awkward bounce from quite a fullish length.”
For possibly the first time in his international career, Morkel won’t be the tallest player on the park during the first Test. Even at just over 2m, Morkel will be shorter than Mohammad Irfan, the 2.16m fast bowler who has been, along with off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, garnering most of South Africa’s attention this week.
“He will get bounce here obviously because he’s so tall, but getting that fuller length here is key,” said Morkel.
The Wanderers pitch still had a heavy grass covering on Wednesday, though it would nevertheless be surprising if South Africa go into the match with an all-pace attack. Robin Peterson got through a rigorous session on Wednesday, and didn’t appear to have any discomfort while batting.