Cape Town – A belter of a batting deck from start to finish?
You might not find Pakistan, 1-0 to the good with one Test
to play, complaining too much if the Dubai International Cricket Stadium plays
that way for the decisive clash with top-ranked South Africa from Wednesday (08:00
There remains every likelihood that the surface will, over
the course of the contest as a whole, be a challenging one for the quicker men
– the Proteas’ traditional strength, needless to say – and also provide
increasing assistance to Pakistan’s primary bowling threat which comes from the
Saeed Ajmal-led spin department.
But a glance at recent history also offers up some
surprising hints that, if they can hit their straps effectively and
determinedly from the outset, fast bowlers don’t have to feel too much fear and
loathing about the prospect of toiling with minimal reward under the hot desert
It also only emphasises just how important it may be for
South Africa to have champion spearhead Dale Steyn at their disposal; he is in
doubt because of a hamstring problem.
Statistics show, encouragingly for the Proteas, that the
relatively new international ground – it has only featured four prior Tests –
does favour results: only the maiden Test, coincidentally also between Pakistan
and South Africa, ended in a draw and all three since have seen Pakistan emerge
victorious (against Sri Lanka in 2011 and England twice in 2012).
That, admittedly, tends to tilt the scales back toward the
likelihood of a favourable “home” outcome in this crucial game, but at the same
time Graeme Smith’s troops should take some heart from the fact that there is clearly
no guarantee this Test will just peter out into a dull stalemate.
Suitably durable and wily speedsters are capable of thriving
at the venue: lanky Proteas customer Morne Morkel needs no reminding because he
bagged one of his six career “five-fors” thus far last time out in 2010 – 5/54
in Pakistan’s first innings.
The trend generally is for surprisingly low first-knock
totals at the ground, which would suit the South Africans in their urgent quest
to be able to complete the 20-wickets job in this contest because history also
shows that teams thrive to a far greater degree in their second turn at the
crease in Dubai, especially between days two and four when the pitch often
appears to play beautifully for batsmen.
The last Test match at the stadium is a case in point:
England were beaten by 71 runs to complete a 3-0 Pakistani sweep, but both
teams posted fewer than 150 runs in the first innings.
It was a game where Ajmal and fellow slow-bowler Abdur Rehman
picked up 14 wickets between them, but with South Africa doubtless still
pinning their hopes to a strong degree on key scalps by the pacemen, Stuart
Broad getting four wickets and James Anderson three in Pakistan’s meagre 99 the
first time around is perhaps cause for a bit of optimism.
Even in the first Test of that series between those
countries, which was also played in Dubai, seamer Umar Gul picked up 4/63 in
England’s second innings, accounting for all of their designated top four.
So while it is true that the dangerous Pakistani spinners
will be licking their lips already, South Africa’s fast bowlers do have some
reason to feel moderately chipper themselves.
Should Steyn not make the cut, however, it has to be said
that there is no certainty reserve seamer Rory Kleinveldt will simply be
drafted in: it could be regarded as the inadvertent hole allowing inclusion of
unpredictable leg-spinner Imran Tahir to bolster the questionable SA spin
But Tahir or no Tahir, first prize remains the Phalaborwa
Express, very likely to be more consistently on song after banishing lots of
rust in Abu Dhabi, getting the fitness all-clear ...
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