This series of tests ultimately led Pakistan to bring international cricket home from the UAE. For perhaps the first time, the narrative is not defined by the fact that it takes place in the country where the venue is more important than cricket itself. In South Africa, Pakistan has attracted one of the leading teams in test cricket despite a recent difficult run . And since the two sides are far from perfect, both in the process of rebuilding with young captains leading them out, this promises to be a series that isn’t entirely marked by cricket excellence as a compelling human drama.
It is not the first time that Pakistan is both a wicker basket and a team capable of great achievements. You are at the beginning of a cycle, and the Babar Azam era promises to begin fully after a false start in New Zealand. There is a new chief voter in Mohammad Wasim who has produced a lot of fresh faces. At least one pair is expected to make their debut on Tuesday. At the same time, head coach Misbah-ul-Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis must be careful that this series isn’t the final chapter in their stint with the team after a less than flattering performance review by the PCB cricket committee they bring to their attention.
South Africa now has enough of its own to worry about. They’ve made enough headlines to embarrass their hosts – usually unmatched in this department – with financial worries, political arguments at board level, the firing of a CEO for alleged wrongdoing, all of which charge high fees. At the same time, they had to deal with a transition as almost irreplaceable players like AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Vernon Philander quit and the performances went south: South Africa lost eight of nine friendly matches before it stopped the slide over Christmas with a 2-0- Home win against Sri Lanka.
That streak, and the shot in the arm she gave Quinton de Kock’s side, make this competition a far more enticing prospect than it might have been. With Kagiso Rabada returning and Anrich Nortje looking like he has the skills to create an intimidating partnership with the frontman, South Africa could be prepared for some good things with the new ball. Given that Pakistan has named as many weirdos on its squad as they won Tests against South Africa – four – there are concerns that the pitch could neutralize the visitors’ greatest strength. Keshav Maharaj will play an important role, and Tabraiz Shamsi, who has been refreshingly active on Twitter lately, may have to lead the conversation too.
The last five games completed, last first
South Africa WWLLL
In the spotlight
The return of Babar Azam means the middle order has an established look, but the first-time test captain has a number of players to incorporate into his squad. His pedigree as a batsman is out of the question, but Azam runs a test page when his reputation – as a captain and thinker of the game – isn’t quite as certain. With some of the novice bowlers, especially spinners, he will have to make a decision not just about game combination, but also how to deal with somewhat unfamiliar options on the field. It may not be quite a baptism of fire, but there were lighter inductions.
After a magical start to his international career, Aiden Markram struggled for almost three years to regain the shape of his first ten test matches. He scored four hundred in his first six months of Test cricket; There hasn’t been one since March 2018, and an average that was in the mid-50s has fallen below 40. Tours of India and Sri Lanka in 2019 were particularly challenging with 96 runs in eight innings. He will want to remedy the situation in Pakistan, and should he regain the quality he so obviously displayed when his career was flourishing, Pakistan has an additional threat to protect himself from.
Kagiso Rabada may not have too many quicks about when South Africa takes over the AFP field via Getty Images
After Abdullah Shafique is eliminated from the 20-man squad, Imran Butt will make his test debut at the top of the rankings alongside Abid Ali. Faheem Ashraf appears ready to agree with all-rounder Mohammad Nawaz while Nauman Ali prepares to assist Yasir Shah in the spin attack.
Pakistan (probably): 1 Abid Ali 2 Imran Butt 3 Azhar Ali 4 Babar Azam (Capt) 5 Fawad Alam 6 Mohammad Rizwan (week) 7 Faheem Ashraf 8. Hasan Ali 9 Nouman Ali 10 Yasir Shah 11 Shaheen Afridi
South Africa also needs to grapple with issues surrounding their combination and consider working with two weirdos. That could oust both Lutho Sipamla and Lungi Ngidi, but with Wiaan Mulder keeping the balance at seven, that shouldn’t be too much of a worry.
South Africa (possible): 1 Aiden Markram 2 Dean Elgar 3 Rassie van der Dussen 4 Faf du Plessis 5 Quinton de Kock (Capt, week) 6 Temba Bavuma 7 Wiaan Mulder 8 Keshav Maharaj 9 Anrich Nortje 10 Kagiso Rabada 11 Lutho Sipamla / LungiNgidi / Tabraiz Shamsi
Parking space and conditions
The surface at Karachi National Stadium doesn’t take as much twist historically as some others in Asia, especially on the first three days. This could be different, however, given the Pakistani squad and South Africa’s perceived weakness against Spin. With five clear days, the weather shouldn’t be a spoilsport.
Statistics and trivia
- The only friendly South Africa ever lost in Pakistan took place in Lahore in 2003. The only test in Karachi was in 2007 when South Africa won with 160 runs
- Rabada is three out of 200 test wickets away. Should he arrive in Karachi, he will be the third fastest South African after Dale Steyn (39 tests) and Allan Donald (42).
“We know our conditions at home very well and we know very well whether to hit or bowl first. But you have to wait until tomorrow.” Pakistani captain Babar Azam doesn’t want to show his hand
“Our mindset is that we’re not afraid to go out and try something different. We can see that they have a spin mindset. We come up with an attitude that we have if we want to win a series from home . ” We have to make some brave calls. “South Africa’s head coach Mark Boucher is intrepid
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ Danny61000