Pakistan v SA
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Taufeeq threat to Proteas
Cape Town - Under normal circumstances, an opening batsman returning to the Test fray after an absence of more than four years hardly suggests he is likely to make a massive difference.
But South Africa have to be cautious about the renewed presence in the Pakistan squad for the first Test, starting in Dubai on Friday, of Taufeeq Umar.
The left-handed opening batsman, probably benefiting from the provisional suspension of Salman Butt over the spot-fixing affair, is among a 16-strong party named by the Pakistani selectors.
His has been a stop-start sort of Test career, spanning 25 caps thus far (average a so-so 39.29) and beginning with a debut century against Bangladesh at Multan in 2001. His last Test, however, was against England at Leeds in 2006.
Now he is back from the relative wilderness ... but fuelled by the satisfaction that he may well lock horns once more with the Proteas, a team he has notably prospered against in four Test matches.
Two of his four Test centuries have come against South Africa, and he boasts 593 runs at 74.12 against these foes.
Taufeeq looked little short of a marvellous player, frankly, despite Pakistan being beaten 2-0 in a short series on our shores in 2002/03.
He seemed to have just about every shot in the book, not to mention strong powers of concentration and application, as a 21-year-old who also looked one of the players from the Subcontinent most illuminatingly at ease with lively pitch conditions in South Africa.
He had fired off a little warning salvo of his prowess with identical scores of 39 and 39 at Kingsmead, but then at Newlands he fought with more guts than anyone to try to stave off a Proteas series sweep – he registered 135 in a Pakistani first-innings total of only 252, and followed that up with 67 out of 226 as the tourists nevertheless succumbed by an innings.
In the Cape Town encounter, South Africa fielded a frisky pace attack of Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Nantie Hayward and Jacques Kallis.
As if to prove that series was no flash in the pan, he was tormentor-in-chief again when South Africa visited Pakistan in 2003/04 and the hosts earned 1-0 revenge in another two-Test battle.
Umar struck 111 and 63 in the Lahore Test, and then 68 and 71 in Faisalabad – small SA comfort was that Paul “Gogga” Adams snared him three times – to be a popular choice as player of the series.
But that was the last the Proteas would see of him until now, and Kallis, Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher, of the squad currently in the United Arab Emirates, may be quick to remind younger team-mates of Taufeeq’s relish for runs against them all those years ago.
Whether the now 29-year-old will be the force these days that he was seven or eight years ago remains to be seen, because Pakistan’s wise men are notorious for playing musical chairs with their top-order batsmen and sometimes causing havoc in the confidence department as a result.
But known weight of performance against South Africa would be sure to stiffen Taufeeq mentally if he does suddenly get another crack at them in the UAE ...