After a dismal Test outing in New Zealand where they lost by 2-0, Pakistan would be looking to get back on the winning ways starting from the forthcoming 2-match Test Test series against South Africa.
Ahead of the first Test in Karachi, which’s all set to commence on January 26, the Pakistan cricket team has announced a 17-man squad including six newcomers to take on South Africa. Babar Azam, who had missed out on the New Zealand Test series owing to a thumb injury, is back in the whites to lead.
Pacers Haris Rauf and Hasan Ali are back in the team and would be raring to unleash their pace prowess. Fielding was one of their key causes of defeat amidst the Kiwi conditions, something they would have to improve in the forthcoming matches.
On the other hand, South Africa would be beaming with confidence post the 2-0 win against Sri Lanka in the home Test series, courtesy of some stellar exhibitions from Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis and pacer Anrich Nortje, in what was their first red-ball series post resumption in international cricket.
Though Protea looks like a better-equipped squad capable to render a tough fight to the hosts, one must remember that Pakistan has won two consecutive Test series at home since December 2019, firstly against Sri Lanka and then a one-off Test match against Bangladesh, giving them a much home advantage over Quinton de Kock & Co.
Not to forget, Pakistan has lost only two Tests out of 44 matches contested at the National Stadium, with the last defeat coming against South Africa, in 2007.
Let us take a look at the six players to keep an eye upon in the upcoming Test series between Pakistan and South Africa –
The southpaw had a stupendous start to the year 2021, scoring 127 and 31* in the second Test against Sri Lanka at Wanderers, prior to which he had a chance to register a ton at SuperSport park in the first Test but was unlucky to be dismissed on 95 off Dasun Shanka’s delivery.
Although the 33-year-old hasn’t had much success against Pakistan, considering he averages just over 24 including a solitary hundred in 7 Test matches, the tides could change for him in the upcoming red-ball duels.
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Faf du Plessis
He had a string of low scores ahead of the two-Test matches against Sri Lanka, with no fifty-plus totals in the last 11 innings, and all Du Plessis needed was one knock to reignite his Test career.
The 36-year-old steered his way to an awe-striking 199, in a knock that comprised 24 fours while he batted at a strike rate of 72.10, and ensured that South Africa are well past 600-plus runs at the end of the first innings.
Just like Elgar, du Plessis too needs to better his numbers against Pakistan. Averaging 27.33 in 7 Tests, the Pretoria-born has amassed merely 246 runs with a solitary century, that too at Newlands in 2019.
Being a core player in the South African batting lineup, a lot will be expected from Faf du Plessis, more so, if there occurs a top-order collapse and there’s a need to save the Test from clutches of defeat.
The all-rounder proved his mettle with the bat in the concluded tour of New Zealand. Averaging an exact 46.50, Ashraf aggregated 186 runs in 4 innings including a counter-attacking 91 off 134 deliveries comprising 15 fours and a six amidst the seaming conditions offered in the first Test at Bay Oval.
He backed up with decent knocks of 48 and 28 in the second Test, and although Pakistan lost the match and eventually the series by 2-0, the 27-year-old’s performance with the willow got him the laurels from the cricket fraternity.
Pakistan hasn’t had a reliable all-rounder in the whites for some time now and with Ashraf gaining experience each game and backing up with clinical performances, he could just put an end to their searches.
One of the great timers of the ball in world cricket at the moment, a lot would depend on Babar’s performance in the forthcoming series for the hosts to seal a victory over the Protea.
Babar averages a monstrous 202.50 in 3 Test matches at home, including 3 hundreds and a fifty, and with him longing to get back in red-ball cricket, one can anticipate dominating performances from his end in Karachi and Rawalpindi.
Indeed, captaincy can bring out the best of certain players and one such recent testimony would be Pakistan’s wicket-keeper batsman Mohammad Rizwan, who led the national side in New Zealand in the absence of their skipper Babar Azam.
Batting at number 6, Rizwan took on the Kiwi bowling attack to register scores of 71 and 60 in the first Test, and 61 and 16 in the second Test. The right-hander emerged as the highest run-getter for the tourists with 202 runs and averaging just over 50.
And while he averages over 40 in Australia, England and New Zealand, and surprisingly under 18 in 3 Test matches in Pakistan, one could expect that his newly found form could assist him in churning numbers amidst the home conditions.
Being the most experienced campaigner in the current Test lineup, Azhar Ali has a lot on his shoulders ahead of the two-match Test series.
Although the 35-year-old Lahore-born had a decent outing with the bat in the concluded away series against the Kiwis, missing out on a well-deserved century in the second Test and amassing 173 runs in two Tests at an average of 43.25, the home advantage could bring in just the right opportunities for Azhar to get back his scoring momentum and even change fortunes of the entire team.
In a career spanning more than a decade, the right-hander has accumulated 6,302 runs while averaging a decent 42.87, including 17 hundreds and 32 fifties. Not to forget, he stuck 118 off 157 deliveries against Sri Lanka in Karachi back in 2019, which the hosts won by a mammoth tally of 263 runs.