New ball, away swing and Dale Steyn have, and will, continue to occupy the thoughts of Pakistan’s players and their coaching staff.
The second Test starts at Newlands on Thursday and while the corny romantics will bestow on their loved ones chocolates, roses and negligee, the only TLC coming Pakistan’s way will be at the many local spas in Cape Town or the medical treatment table. l
For at Newlands they’ll be subjected to another punishing barrage from the South African pace bowlers and Steyn may not even be the main man.
It’s not as if Pakistan don’t know what’s coming or haven’t spent time working on how to nullify what’s coming their way. They have, but dealing with it is proving darn difficult.
Even during their best period with the bat late last Sunday, Graeme Smith reckoned his bowlers still left a psychological mark on the Pakistani players. Any runs they’re going to get in this series won’t come easy and even though Newlands won’t have quite the bounce seen at the Wanderers, there will still be swing, especially with the new ball.
Smith may expect Pakistan to get better, but then he’ll also expect his other two main strike bowlers to improve on their performances at the Wanderers.
Morné Morkel had one of those matches where he wasn’t quite in rhythm. He wasn’t bad, just not very good, especially when compared to Steyn.
For the most part he battled with his line, offering too much width outside off-stump.
The same problem beset Vernon Philander, whose customary line is on or just outside off stump, but who was a little too wide of the off-stump to overly bother the Pakistanis.
Still neither player was being taken to the cleaners by the Pakistan batsmen and that will be of concern to the tourists. That has to change at Newlands, but how?
Pakistan must nullify the ball just as they did in the second innings at the Wanderers. Nasir Jamshed launched an effective counter-attack to anything that was marginally over-pitched while the No 3 Azhar Ali practised patience.
Misbah and Asad Shafiq showed they could stick around, but that isn’t enough to make the South Africans feel they are under pressure.
Philander enjoys bowling at Newlands, his knowledge of the surface and wind direction making it the venue where he’s had the most success even at this early stage of what has been a remarkable Test career.
His last performance there saw him claim 5/7 as New Zealand was shot out for 45, inside the first session of play.
Like Steyn at the Wanderers last Saturday, Philander’s use of the new ball then was mesmerising.
Movement off the surface naturally is important, but even more so is length and Philander bowls a length where batsmen battle with knowing whether to move forward or play off the backfoot.
Morkel too has enjoyed Newlands recently and was instrumental in Australia’s notorious second innings capitulation there in November 2011 when he finished with 3/9 from six overs.
Morkel’s problem is consistency and if he maintains a consistent line – and doesn’t bowl no balls – the wickets will come his way in Cape Town.
Pakistan must rejig their attack. The attempt to surprise South Africa with Rahat Ali instead of going with the giant Mohammed Irfan, failed dismally in the first Test.
Ali is not a Test bowler at this stage of his career and while it’s understandable that there were concerns about Irfan’s ability to stay fit for five days, those concerns should have been off-set by the importance of making a mark against South Africa’s batsmen.
The Wanderers was the ideal place to do that. If Irfan’s not in the reckoning for Newlands, then they may want to try an additional spinner in Abdur Rehmann to provide more support for Saeed Ajmal and Mohammed Hafeez.
Spin looks the only way Pakistan can keep South Africa’s powerful top order in check.
Pakistan may feel they have a better chance of stretching the game into a fifth day at Newlands, which will give them a better chance of winning.
South Africa of course have an outstanding record at Newlands, winning 17 of 25 Tests since the return from isolation, and losing just three times – all to Australia. - Weekend Argus