Pakistan v SA

SA favourites against Pakistan

2010-10-25 20:25
Waqar Younis (AFP)
Doha - South Africa will face a Pakistan team that is struggling to repair the damage after match fixing allegations when the two sides meet in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday at the start of a Test and limited overs series.

Pakistan will be without former captain Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, who were provisionally suspended by the ICC following allegations they accepted money to bowl no-balls during a test against England in August to fix spot-betting markets.

South Africa also has history on its side - having won five of seven Test series against Pakistan dating back to 1995 - and is on good form.

Pakistan, meanwhile, is designated as the home side - security concerns mean games cannot be played in Pakistan - and will have an added advantage since the United Arab Emirates is home to hundreds of thousands of migrant Pakistanis working in the country.

The series will start in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday with the first of two Twenty20 internationals, followed by five one-day internationals and two Test matches.

Pakistan coach Waqar Younis admitted the series would "not be easy" without "major players" Butt, Asif and Amir.

"They are key players. But that is the way it is," Waqar said. "It is difficult but not impossible. I hope things will settle down and they will come back. We are trying to compensate with the other boys but it is not easy."

Waqar, though, said he was impressed by several young players on the squad, who could complement the more seasoned performers.

"We have some exciting youngsters and experienced campaigners in the squad. It is a blend of youth and experience," Waqar said.

"Shoaib Akhtar is back. We have Wahab Riaz and I'm pretty pleased about him. He did well in the domestic Twenty20. Tanvir Ahmed is there as well. We have a fairly good bowling lineup and a good squad."

Beyond the impact of the betting scandal, Pakistan has also struggled with injuries to key players, such as batsman Mohammad Yousuf.

The experienced Yousuf was ruled out for at least the Twenty20s and ODIs with ruptured abductor muscles. In his absence, Younis Khan and newly appointed Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq must shoulder the burden of batting in the middle order.

Former captain Younis returns after being banned for an indefinite period for a dispute with Yousuf during the ill-fated tour of Australia earlier this year. Yousuf was also suspended but later recalled.

Younis, who retired from Twenty20 cricket in 2009, was included in the test and ODI squads to face South Africa after resolving his previous disciplinary issues in a meeting with Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ijaz Butt.

"It's very good that Younis Khan is back," Waqar said. "He's been a great servant. For the last 12 to 14 years, he has served Pakistan as a captain, as a player, as a senior member. He has done wonders and it's very good that he is back in the team."

Waqar is happy with his bowling attack but wants his batsmen to focus on scoring heavily to set the opposition more testing targets.

"Pakistan has an edge in its bowling," Waqar said. "Definitely we have better bowling than them. We just probably need to push on our batting."

South Africa recently swept Zimbabwe in Twenty20 and one-day series despite being without leading fast bowler Dale Steyn and star all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who are recovering from injuries.

Still, South Africa isn't taking anything for granted against Pakistan and sees the series as crucial preparation ahead of next year's World Cup, which will take place in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

"Pakistan has a very good Twenty20 side. They have knocked us out in a couple of big tournaments in recent times," Twenty20 captain Johan Botha told reporters in Abu Dhabi.

"It is a good gauge for us to play Pakistan. It is the first test of the subcontinent for the (World Cup). All of us are quite excited. We have a nice, fresh young team here."

Kallis has a back problem while Steyn hurt his neck and picked up a concussion when taking a catch in September, and neither has played in a month. Both are traveling with the team.

Asked about their fitness, coach Corrie van Zyle would only say that "we are monitoring them on a daily basis" and that "we will be led by the medical team."

Those lingering fitness concerns could see South Africa pick international cricket newcomers Colin Ingram and Rusty Theron - both of whom impressed against Zimbabwe - for the opening Twenty20 game against Pakistan.

Batsman AB de Villiers, who smashed back-to-back ODI centuries against Zimbabwe, will continue as South Africa's wicketkeeper in the limited-overs matches but Mark Boucher remains in the Test squad.

South Africa's batting will also be boosted by the presence of Test and ODI captain Graham Smith in all three forms of the game - despite giving up Twenty20 leadership duties - and JP Duminy, who made the highest ever score by a South African in T20 internationals - 96 not out - against Zimbabwe.

Duminy also made his best ODI score of 129 later in the series.

Morne Morkel, who normally leads the fast bowling attack alongside Steyn, is also recovering from injury but the 21-year-old left-arm quick Wayne Parnell has returned from a nagging groin problem.

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