Cape Town – South Africa return to the once-tainted Sharjah
Cricket Stadium for the first time in 13 years when they start the five-match
ODI series against Pakistan there on Wednesday (13:00 SA time).
Not since March 31 2000 have they played at that particular
United Arab Emirates venue, when the same foes beat the Hansie Cronje-led team
in the final of the triangular Coca-Cola Cup – also featuring India – by 16
Cronje himself led the chase of 264 to win, scoring 79, and
there were also half-centuries by Neil McKenzie and Mark Boucher as the South
African nevertheless fell short.
That defeat was the Proteas’ second on the trot in the
tournament against the Pakistanis, and those results broke a previously proud
sequence of eight ODI victories in succession for South Africa at Sharjah since
their debut at the venue in 1996.
Of the currently active SA players, only Jacques Kallis
remains as a prior Sharjah trooper, although he is unavailable for the
limited-overs portion of this tour anyway.
Although it was mostly a productive place for the Proteas,
it also became clouded in controversy as match-fixing claims entered the radar
more and more in the 1990s – Sharjah was seen as a hotbed of corruption.
The Indian government actually banned their national team
from playing there in 2001, and no ODIs at all were held there between 2003 and
It has come back into favour, however, since security
concerns at home forced Pakistan to use the Emirates as a new home base for
their international contests and both the first and last of the five bilateral ODIs
in this series are being played at Sharjah.
AB de Villiers’s team should find the conditions not at all
dissimilar to what they have already experienced in the Test portion of the
tour at Abu Dhabi and Dubai, although they will probably be grateful for the
day/night format given the likelihood of customary desert heat.
The Proteas, who have not yet lost any ODI series between
these two nations alone, have relatively limited selection options for the
opener because of the temporary absence of Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn.
Although there will be a clamour for Vernon Philander to
return to the line-up – a chance to see whether he can recreate his Test magic
in the one-day landscape – he is probably not guaranteed a start just yet, with
space likely to be made for two lower-order all-rounders in Ryan McLaren and
Wayne Parnell (important given their specialist batting fragility in recent
The latter has been in welcome, hungry mode in the domestic
Momentum One-Day Cup, and there will probably be great desire by the coaching
staff to get him firing as quickly as possible again at a higher level.
Stalwart Robin Peterson, given the extra skills he offers
both as a fielder and batsman, may well hold off at this stage the challenge of
leggie Imran Tahir for the main spinning berth, though be under some pressure
to make an impact.
South Africa’s team
should not differ much from this: Graeme Smith, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy,
AB de Villiers (c), Faf du Plessis, David Miller, Ryan McLaren, Wayne Parnell,
Robin Peterson, Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
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