Pakistan Cricket, that was severely devoured by the ravages of terrorism in the early 2010s, is set to embrace new dawn on January 26. South Africa’s touring party, embellished with international superstars, are set to feature in two Tests and three T20Is on Pakistan’s soil, with the first Test to kick-start the cricketing side of the tour in Karachi. While tours from nations like Sri Lanka, West Indies, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe brought major success in restoring Pakistan Cricket’s image, a visit from the mighty Proteas is a huge box ticked, the PCB would feel. This coupled with the fact that this is South Africa’s first time touching down on Pakistani shores since 2007 makes this trip even more special. Not to mention the two in-transition Test sides under fairly new but immensely talented players’ leadership that will provide a perfect match-up and enthralling viewership.
Both Pakistan and South Africa have perpetual, off-the-field turbulence surrounding their cricket. The tourists, in particular, have all sorts of financial severities and political bickering and unrest taking place in their cricketing structure – Cricket South Africa. Despite all this, a team that has been in transition since the departure of South African legends like AB de Villiers, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Hashim Amla, managed to whitewash a weakened Sri Lankan side. With that 2-0 home victory in their pockets, South Africa’s somewhat inexperienced team will be high on confidence following a horrendous string of losses in the format.
South Africa’s line-up will comprise much of the players that faced Sri Lanka and they are not expected to make drastic changes, anyway. Quinton de Kock’s side, though, receives a massive boost with the return of its fast-bowling spearhead – Kagiso Rabada. The tall, aggressive pacer, in liaison with Anrich Nortje – another sizzling speedster – can make things difficult for a Pakistan batting line short of experience and morale. The visitors have also named three spinners in the squad with Keshav Maharaj to leave the pack. It will be interesting to see whether South Africa go ahead with two spin-bowling options or keep Lungi Ngidi as the third seamer with Wiaan Mulder to play the all-rounder’s role at No. 7.
South Africa’s Possible Playing XI: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock (c & wk), Temba Bavuma, Wiaan Mulder, Keshav Maharaj, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi/Tabraiz Shamsi
The hosts, on the contrary, were razed and hammered down in New Zealand in their most-recent trip. Following a series of disastrous overseas tours, there has been much scrutiny on the current team management. A slew of young faces from the domestic circuit have been called up to the national set-up by the new chief selector, Mohammad Wasim. There were as many as 9 uncapped players in the initial squad announced of 20 members – which has now been cut down to 17 for the 1st Test.
In what is going to be Babar Azam’s first appointment as the red-ball captain, Pakistan are expected to hand Imran Butt a debut to be the replacement opener for Shan Masood. The middle-order looks settled with Azhar Ali and Babar Azam occupying their spots at No.3 and 4, respectively. Fawad Alam, following a memorable century at Mount Maunganui, is set to retain his spot, too. Hasan Ali, whose recent meteoric rise in domestic cricket has earned him a recall to the squad, is expected to slot right into the bowling battery. His all-round antics in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy were fully on display and may assist Pakistan with some crucial lower-order runs in the series. It will be interesting to see whether the hosts – who are much more accustomed to the conditions – field a three-pronged pace attack or give a debut to either of the two spinners - Sajid Khan or Nauman Ali.
Pakistan’s Possible Playing XI: Abid Ali, Imran Butt, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam (c), Fawad Alam, Saud Shakeel, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Nauman Ali/Sajid Khan, Yasir Shah, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi
Historically, the pitch on offer at the National Stadium Karachi does not offer a whole lot to the slower blowers, right from the word go. The wear and tear usually starts around Day 3 but it may change in this game given South Africa’s general impotence against spin. In the only Test played between these two sides at this venue, in 2007, South Africa won by a comprehensive 160 runs. Without getting into contemplations and predictions, let us feast on what promises to be a well-fought and a cracker of a Test series.