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Johannesburg – The opening match of Pakistan's two-month tour of South Africa, a four-day affair against a South African Invitation XI, gets underway at Buffalo Park, East London, on Friday.
A good performance by the South Africans could get them some recognition with the national selectors eager to groom talent for future Test, ODI, or Twenty20 teams.
For the newcomers in the Pakistan side this is an opportunity to show they are ready to take over from some of the veterans in the team who are nearing the end of their careers.
A bowler who will be carefully watched in the SA XI will be Dolphins fast bowler Kyle Abbott. He is fresh from a bag of eight for 45 (11-96 in the match) in his last outing against the Cape Cobras at Newlands.
Abbott has always found the Buffalo Park wicket to his liking and if there is a cross-breeze coming off the sea, he could be in business.
Skipper Justin Ontong will also want to prove he is not the forgotten man of SA cricket. A month ago he scored a high-class 90
for the Cobras against the Warriors on the same pitch.
Warriors medium-pacer Aya Gqamane will be anxious to prove his recent match-winning efforts in the domestic series were not a flash in the pan and bowling on his home ground could help him reap some benefits and get the selectors’ attention.
Davy Jacobs missed well over a year’s first-class cricket due to injury. But with some good batting he could well prove to be yet another wicketkeeper in line to take over from AB de Villiers, should he give up the gloves, although the Cobras’ Dane Vilas will keep during this match.
The pitch is likely to take spin on the third and fourth days and this is where the tourists will capitalise with their world-class spinners, off-spinner Saeed Ajmal and left-arm orthodox Abdur Rehman, who have bewildered the best Test batsmen in the world, will come into their own.
A player who towers over his teammates, the lanky Pakistan left-arm pace bowler, Muhammad Irfan, who is over 2m tall, looked impressive during practice sessions at the Buffalo Park nets during the week.
The tourists are keen to get him into top form with the first Test only a week away at the Wanderers. Irfan is likely to get some bounce from that pitch.
An entertaining game is thus on the cards, one that management of the touring team has stated will be taken very seriously by the tourists with so little time to run into top form before the Test series begins.
SA Invitation XI:
Justin Ontong (Cobras, capt), Kyle Abbott ( Dolphins), Cody Chetty (Dolphins), Ayabulela Gqamane (Warriors), Simon Harmer (Warriors), Beuran Hendricks ( Cobras), Davy Jacobs (Warriors), Wayne Parnell (Warriors), Andrew Puttick (Cobras), Vaughn van Jaarsveld (Dolphins), Stiaan van Zyl (Cobras), Dane Vilas (Cobras).
Coach: Vinnie Barnes, Assistant Coach: Malibongwe Maketa.
Misbah ul Haq (capt), Muhammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshaid, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Younus Khan, Sarfraz Ahmed, Umar Gul, Junaid Khan, Muhammad Irfan, Ehsan Adil, Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman, Harris Sohail, Faisal Iqbal, Taufeeq Umer. Head Coach: Dav Whatmore.
Umpires: Denis Smith and Ian Howell.
Third Umpire: Laurence Willemse
Match referee: Tiffy Barnes. – Sapa