Key players for Pakistan and Proteas ahead of Test series
JOHANNESBURG - The first Test between Pakistan and South Africa starts at the National Stadium in Karachi on Tuesday. STUART HESS looks at three players in each side who will be crucial to their team’s success
Faf du Plessis
The only member of the squad with experience of playing in Pakistan but that experience doesn’t include Test cricket.
However, it’s Du Plessis’ personality and natural leadership that is of great value to the Proteas.
He spoke lucidly at the weekend of old problems he had playing against Pakistan and also the methodology the batsmen will need to employ to be successful on what many are now predicting will be surfaces that will assist spinners.
Du Plessis’ overall Test average in the subcontinent is only 23.5, something he needs to improve if the Proteas are to be successful.
Quinton de Kock
Like Du Plessis, De Kock’s record in the subcontinent is poor, averaging just 22.2.
But De Kock is a vital link in the middle of the order. He says he feels comfortable at No 5 but needs to make an impact there in the manner that coach Mark Boucher believes he can.
This is arguably the most difficult period of De Kock’s international career, with all the responsibilities that have been put on his shoulders.
Besides fishing, it is out in the middle of the contest that perhaps he can be the most liberated version of himself.
What the Proteas need from De Kock is runs, which the side haven’t had from him this season.
Since taking match figures of 12/283 against Sri Lanka in 2018, Maharaj has taken 20 wickets in the next 10 Tests he’s played.
Eight of those matches were in South Africa, where, given the conditions, his impact would be minimal.
But in the sub-continent, with conditions forecast to aid spin, he’ll be firmly in the spotlight again.
His last tour to the region was a nightmare as he was targeted by a great Indian batting line-up who took him for 514 runs in 127 overs across two Tests. He was dropped for the third match of that series.
He’ll be a focus for Pakistan’s attention in this series and the key element is not how much he spins the ball, but the consistency of length and finding the optimum pace on those surfaces.
“His last three seasons in all three formats have been nothing short of remarkable,” Du Plessis said of the Pakistan captain on Saturday.
Babar missed the tour to New Zealand with a broken thumb, and, as Du Plessis pointed out, having him back will lift the confidence of the rest of the squad.
On Pakistan’s return to Test cricket on home soil last season, Babar scored three centuries in four innings. In those matches, however, he didn’t have to worry about captaincy, so it will be interesting to see how he balances the demands of leadership while continuing to deliver with the bat.
The most experienced player in the Pakistan squad, Azhar brings reasonable form into the series having made 93 in the first innings of the last Test against New Zealand.
A bit like Du Plessis for the Proteas, his experience is critical for the hosts, and he needs to ease some of the pressure that will be on Babar’s shoulders.
A very patient, technically correct player, South Africa will need to be precise in how they execute their plans against him.
Yasir has talked this week about his ineffectiveness recently – in 15 innings of his last 10 Tests, he has picked up just 25 wickets at an average of 51.80 – blaming it on the ‘holding’ role he’s needed to play in support of the seam bowlers.
The 34-year-old leg-spinner is hoping for more spin-friendly conditions at home, and it seems like he’ll get that as Pakistan go in search of a much needed series win.
“If you look at (my) track record in the UAE, Sri Lanka (24 wickets in three Tests) and the
West Indies (25 in three), I’ve done much better in those places chiefly because the pitches were conducive for spinners,” Yasir told Pakistan media.