Dubai – Making a good start to what could be a difficult tour is top priority for South Africa coach Russell Domingo as he prepares his squad for the two-match Test series against an unpredictable Pakistan side in the Emirates.
But first for Domingo and the Proteas is a three-day warm-up game against Pakistan A, starting in Sharjah on Tuesday before the opening Test in Abu Dhabi from October 14-18 and the second in Dubai from October 23-27.
“This is a long, but tough tour for us. We have a settled squad, but preparations for the trip have not been ideal as we’ve had players participating in the Champions League T20 while others have been in England playing in the County Championship. Ideally we would’ve loved to have everyone together before heading off on this trip,” Domingo said.
“But that’s the hand we’ve been dealt and we need to get going the moment we land in the Emirates. We need to start the tour well – that’s priority. And if that happens, we know the long season ahead will be a good one for us.”
Fortunately for the Proteas coach, his captain, Graeme Smith, was declared fit after a marathon rehabilitation from heel surgery – it took almost six-and-half months. That gives him a bit more confidence as Smith’s leadership qualities and batting prowess at the top of the order are crucial to the success of the Proteas, who are ranked No 1 on the ICC Test rankings.
Added to this, star all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who opted out of the South African One-Day squad for personal reasons, is back in harness too after an extended break. He has been having net sessions on his own and has been training with his personal trainer to be in peak condition for the trip.
Pakistan can be a tough side to beat on their day, but can sometimes as easily be a pushover – it depends on which side of the bed their players get up each day of a Test or even if the “right” team gets on to the bus in the morning.
This showed on their recent trip to Zimbabwe where they won the first Test comfortably and then slumped to a shock defeat in the second to share the series 1-1.
“They have the batsmen and bowlers, including world class spinners, to do the job for them. We have the men to do the job, too, and need to go out on the opening day to stamp our authority like we’ve done in the past,” says Domingo.
The coach studied Pakistan in Zimbabwe and the fact that South Africa beat them in a series here last season gives the Proteas a slight advantage. But the slow pitches in the Emirates will not suit the South Africans, who have a quick bowling attack which includes Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander. It’s a slow bowler’s paradise. Pakistan have Saeed Ajmal, their No 1 spinner for a long time now, and Abdur Rehman, who has taken 90 wickets in his 19 Test appearances, as their key spinners. The Proteas will be hoping that Robin Peterson, the No 1 spinner at the moment, and Pakistan-born Imran Tahir, recalled after some good performances, can come up trumps on the slow tracks.
But it’s not only the spinners that worry Domingo it’s the Pakistan batsmen – the likes of Younis Khan, who has come back to add some backbone to their middle-order, Misbah-ul-Haq and Hafeez, who may not have had a good tour of Zimbabwe but who can be a difficult man to dislodge.