Cape Town - Traditionally one of the alluring aspects of any
Pakistan tour of South Africa has been the presence of at least one genuinely
chin-rattling fast bowler in the touring ranks.
So at a time of overkill in bilateral tussles between these
sides, the Pakistanis are about to kick off their short, hastily-compiled
limited-overs sojourn here glaringly light in that department – perhaps not the
ideal way to muster widespread local interest in the exercise.
It is also just another reason to suspect that the in-form
Proteas should carry over (now to more familiar and livelier turf) the
stranglehold they achieved in both the one-day international and Twenty20
clashes in the United Arab Emirates, winning six of the seven fixtures across
those codes very recently.
Immediate return hostilities start at the Wanderers on Wednesday
with the first of two T20 internationals (18:00 start), and as much as they
will broadly be favoured anyway, the South Africans ought to command a major
edge in the bowling hostility factor over the next couple of weeks – especially
as Test champion Dale Steyn looks such a rejuvenated force in the condensed
versions of the game.
It would be disrespectful to completely pooh-pooh the
Pakistani challenge: they will still have in their midst some very sprightly
stroke-players – if not all properly versed in the attributes of patience and
discipline – the wonderful spinning wiles of Saeed Ajmal and company, and at
least some seam-bowling savvy in the shape of established left-armers Junaid
Khan and Sohail Tanvir.
The last-named player, he of the quirky action, certainly
begins the tour in familiar surroundings as he has given service to the
Bullring-based Lions in domestic one-day competitions.
But it is a devastating blow to Pakistan -- and to some
extent perhaps also the much-needed gate receipts? -- that the freak, 2.16m
paceman Mohammad Irfan has succumbed to preventable over-bowling in the
Emirates series against the Proteas and didn’t get on the plane here.
Such extraordinarily elongated frames (ask rugby’s Stormers
and Springboks about a certain Andries Bekker!) in sport need delicate
management at times and it remains a mystery why the Pakistan brains trust kept
flogging Irfan into the T20 portion of the recent itinerary, when it was
already known a follow-up series had been cobbled together and he would be
desperately needed on SA’s higher-bouncing strips.
At least on the pace front, the visitors now look sadly
understaffed as a result: the Proteas batsmen, while largely in the dark about
their merits or demerits, ought not to be too intimidated by the addition of
rookies Bilawal Bhatti (uncapped) and Anwar Ali to the squad.
Ali has at least played three prior T20 internationals,
though all were on the tour of Zimbabwe a little earlier in the year and his
economy rate of 9.14 against the minnows doesn’t necessarily suggest he is
ready to cause carnage against a superpower like South Africa.
Whatever their collective strengths or weaknesses in this
neck of the woods, prior Pakistani touring sides of the post-isolation era have
almost always found ways of fighting fire with fire in shock-bowling terms.
In the honeymoon period for the “new” South Africa in the
early 1990s, who can forget the toe-crushing mayhem caused by Waqar Younis, backed
up by the very different but no less lethal skills of Wasim Akram?
Then a certain Shoaib Akhtar started causing grievous bodily
harm – ask Gary Kirsten, just for example – a few years onward, and more
recently the towering Irfan has not only dished out some bruises to batsmen but
also given general discomfort at the crease to such accomplished characters as
Hashim Amla and JP Duminy.
Even as speculation mounted that Irfan was likely to break
down sooner rather than later through unrealistic workload, hopes had been
raised that the wily Umar Gul, who had major knee surgery in Australia several
months ago, might make the cut first for the Emirates contests and thus have an
even better chance of playing in the SA-staged games.
Yet neither ended up coming to fruition: remember that Gul
can twice boast stellar figures of five for six in T20 internationals,
including in his last appearance in the format against the Proteas at Centurion
in early March before his injury.
And although there is a quite rightful view that if you
commit the crime you must serve the time, keep in mind also that Pakistan are
currently deprived of the services of two magnificent fast bowlers in Mohammad
Asif and the youthful Mohammad Amir, both jailed and slapped with long-term
bans for deliberate on-field irregularities from which they accepted payment from
a betting syndicate.
It seems the precociously talented, 21-year-old Amir will
have his five-year ban reviewed by the International Cricket Council in early
2014, but that hardly helps their current conundrum in the pace department.
It is quite some absent
arsenal for Pakistan, isn’t it?
I do fear further one-way traffic, but if unpredictable
Pakistan can muster at least some fortitude over the course of the five matches
around South Africa, it will naturally benefit the Proteas’ preparations for
the almost certainly tougher, much-debated visit of India soon afterwards.
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