CAPE TOWN – Let’s start with the things we know. Duanne Olivier will be in the Proteas line-up this morning at Newlands.
The rest is anyone’s guess. From how the pitch will behave, to who will actually be left out to accommodate Vernon Philander’s return is a mystery that even Sherlock Holmes would struggle to expose.
Captain Faf du Plessis had everyone baffled at yesterday’s pre-match conference. Arguably the finest Test captain on the circuit, Du Plessis is equally proficient in-front of the cameras and has certainly mastered the art of playing his cards close to his chest.
Yesterday when asked about the Proteas’ team composition for this second Test against Pakistan, Du Plessis was poker-faced.
He spoke about how “historically Newlands is a pitch that spins a bit” and that “if there is wind, then it does play into the role of a spinner” alluding to the fact that South Africa could resist the temptation to play an all-seam attack, but equally stressed that there is a “little bit of grass” on the surface and continued about how “it is always tricky finding that balance and that there are a few combinations, whether it is playing the extra seamer, spinner or a batsman less”.
In complete contrast, Du Plessis’s counterpart Safraz Ahmed was straight to the point. “We will play the same batting line-up”, Safraz stated, killing any further speculation that a senior batsman would be made a scapegoat after the capitulation in Centurion last week.
This show of confidence in a batting unit that lost nine wickets for under 100 runs in one session at SuperSport Park is surprising, although it has probably been imposed due to left-hander Harris Sohail having to return home with a series-ending knee injury yesterday.
It is not only Pakistan that enters the New Year Test with concerns over their batting unit though. Hashim Amla may have had a welcome return to form with a half-century at SuperSport Park, but the Proteas willow-wielders have endured a lean run in recent times. Admittedly this has much to do with the seam-friendly bowling conditions at home, which Du Plessis attests to, but they cannot rely solely on their impressive bowlers and lower-order to manufacture a victory every time.
Du Plessis admits “in a perfect world, everyone is scoring 100s and everyone is doing well”, but he is not overly concerned especially due to the fact that South Africa have won 17 of their last 19 Tests at home.
“What that has meant is that it has been a little bit tougher on the batters at home, because you’re playing against quality seam attacks like most teams have around the world these days. India were here, they have a great seam attack, Australia were here, and now Pakistan,” he said.
“The numbers of the batters will drop a bit, but for me and the coach (Ottis Gibson) we are okay with that. We look at winning cricket. That’s our focus. That will always be the biggest focus point for me and the coach.”
The likely teams for Newlands are:
South Africa: Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, Theunis de Bruyn, Faf du Plessis (captain), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj/Dale Steyn, Duanne Olivier.
Pakistan: Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmad (captain), Yasir Shah, Hassan Ali, Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Afridi/Mohammad Abbas.
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