Proteas head back to the big job: Test cricket

By Ant Sims 30 January 2013

The build-up towards the first Test against Pakistan has well and truly begun. There’s much talk about Pakistan’s bowling and how they’ll adapt to conditions, but all in all, cricket fans can breathe a sigh of relief, as Test cricket is just two days away from returning. By ANT SIMS.

The South African national cricket team will finally get back to the business of Test cricket on Friday when they kick off a three-match series against Pakistan in Johannesburg.

The pressure will be on, too. When you’re the number one-ranked Test team in the world, that comes with a certain level of scrutiny. So with a limited number of Tests for South Africa this year, after Sri Lanka decided to postpone their series, South Africa needs to take every chance to extend its tenure at the top of the table.

So what’s the prognosis? They are a strong team, and have a good chance to win. Still, in in the unlikely event that the Proteas lose the series 1-0, they will still remain in the lead. If they lose the series 3-0, they will drop to second and England will be back on top. (It’s unlikely, but not impossible: just ask England, who lost 3-0 to Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates last year.)

Pakistan’s visit to South Africa will be a different kettle of fish, though. During the abovementioned game, England spectacularly imploded against spin, looking clueless. South Africa, on the other hand, has the advantage of home conditions – and is on an unbeaten streak of 12 matches to boot.

While the home record has been questionable over the last few years, a quiet confidence and real sense of authority currently lingers in the South African camp. They’ve showed that they can absorb and transfer pressure in crunch situations, and even if it takes one exceptional soldier to stage a rescue, they can still scrap their way out of a tight spot.

Pakistan, however, can be unpredictable, and nobody ever knows which version of the team will show up (not even, it seems, Pakistan itself). If they’re strong, they shouldn’t be underestimated – and legendary all-rounder Jacques Kallis knows this all too well.

“They’re a very unpredictable side. On a day when the team comes together and individuals put in in good performances, they’re a very dangerous side and can be as good as anyone in the world. It just depends on which Pakistan side shows up on the day,” Kallis said on Tuesday.

Hashim Amla also believes that the Pakistanis can pose a great threat, especially with their bowling line-up.

“Pakistan is a different team to their sub-continental neighbours because they possess more variation in their bowling,” Amla said.

 “Obviously, we’re going to prepare as best we can for them as possible. They are just such an exciting team.”

Pakistan called for pace reinforcements last week, with Tanveer Ahmed and Rahat Ali joining the squad. Amla, though, doesn’t think it’s always pace that does the trick.

“I’ve always felt in South African conditions that it’s the guys who are not always quick that are the most successful. Just look how well Vernon Philander has done. I don’t think it’s the quick guys that are most lethal,” said Amla.

“But Pakistan does have a good attack, and what also assists them is that they usually bowl on flat tracks. When they do encounter tracks that suit them, they then have the discipline that you need.”

Mohammed Irfan, standing at seven-foot-one, has been much talked about. His height could significantly aid him in extracting pace and bounce from South African conditions, but Kallis was quick to downplay the threat posed by the giant.

“It’s going to take a few deliveries to get used to, but Morne Morkel isn’t that much shorter, so our batters are more than used to that type of bounce,” said Kallis.

Kallis also reckons that the Pakistan batsmen will be tested, especially with some shorter bowling.

“We have the conditions to our advantage; they’re not used to our conditions. They’ve got some quality batters, but they’re not used to our conditions. They’ll be tested with the short ball,” said Kallis.

There have been a few injury concerns for the Proteas, with Hashim Amla picking up a knock during the one-day series and Vernon Philander’s hamstring playing up against New Zealand, but both players are fit and will be ready to play in the first Test starting on Friday.

Robin Peterson’s fitness, however, is still in doubt. The spinner split the webbing in his hand and had to receive stitches during the one-day series, but South African team management has said it is too early to make a call yet.

“Robbie had a light training session this afternoon to allow the hand more time to recover. It’s still too early to make a call on his availability for the Test match, but we are looking at Wednesday after practice or early Thursday morning,” Proteas team manager, Dr Mohammed Moosajee, said.

Imran Tahir has been recalled to the Proteas squad as back-up, and will replace Peterson should he not be able to play – unless the Proteas opt for an all-out pace attack at the Wanderers. DM

Photo: South Africa’s Dale Steyn (C) celebrates with teammates the wicket of New Zealand’s Jeetan Patel (not in picture) during day three of the second cricket test match in Port Elizabeth, January 13, 2013. REUTERS/Rogan Ward


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