Despite all the determination and optimism, Pakistan’s players and cricket fans know that beating South Africa in their home ground is no easy task. In fact, a realistic ratio after a bit of guesswork seems to be around 60:40 in favour of the hosts. Critics with stricter yardsticks may further play down the ratio, but our patriotism is preventing us from seeing our country below that level.

[caption id="attachment_201" align="alignright" width="249"]Sixty-four thousand dollar question: can Pakistani batsmen stand against Steyn, Philander and Morkel? (Photo: Getty Images) Sixty-four thousand dollar question: can Pakistani batsmen stand against Steyn, Philander and Morkel? (Photo: Getty Images)[/caption]

Let’s compare both teams in the three departments of the game: batting, bowling and fielding. Pakistan’s opening is still facing problems. Nasir Jamshed’s riveting performance against India may be an edge for him, but punishing ‘fast’ bowlers on damp pitches of India and Pakistan, and facing pacers on South Africa’s speedy and bouncy tracks are two different things.

Jamshed may have been a talented batsman, he lacks the experience required in such conditions. However, his brilliant knocks against South African Invitation XI show his form is ‘international’.

On the other hand, Taufeeq Umar’s entrenched habit of giving catches in the slips is still there and his performance also lacks consistency.

Though Haris Sohail may be tried as another opener, in the presence of Mohammad Hafeez he is unlikely to be included in the playing eleven because Pakistan cannot have four openers. However, Sohail is there as a backup option, and may be used if Pakistan’s top order badly fails to perform.

Talk of Proteas, they have Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen as the opening pair, with the former being brilliant on South African wickets. And if, for instance, hosts’ top order fails to live up to expectations, they have names like Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla who can face almost all kinds of bowlers. Moreover, South Africa have Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers and Jacques Rudolph in their squad who may add insult to Pakistan’s injury.

Pakistan undoubtedly have an experienced batting pair in the form of captain Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, with an additional young talent in the form of Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Faisal Iqbal, but the sixty-four thousand dollar question is: can these batsmen stand against Dale Steyn’s pace, Vernon Philander’s swing and Morne Morkel’s  bouncers?

Bowling can do wonders for Pakistan in the tour. Junaid Khan has showed his mettle in India and it is hoped that he would perform even in the South African conditions favourable for bowlers. Umar Gul is also expected to performed better as he has now support from the other end. Mohammad Irfan, with his increased pace and controllable bowling, has also impressed everyone in the India tour and he is likely to create problems for the opponents, given he remains fit throughout the series. In the current scenario, Ahsan Adil doesn’t seem to carve out his place in the team, but he is undoubtedly the future of Pakistan as he can also perform with the bat.

As for the spin bowling, there is no match between the two teams. Pakistan have world’s top spinners, with Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez and Abdur Rehman having talent unmatched by any other bowler. On the other hand, South Africa lack any such spinner who has the ability to ravage the opponents’ batting line-up.

But South Africa can overcome that deficit by having Jacques Kallis—a fast-bowling all-rounder—in their ranks. Pakistan, on the other hand, haven’t got any such player.

Pakistan have finally given “non-Akmal” a chance as a wicketkeeper for reasons best known to the selectors. Sarfaraz is a talented wicketkeeper and relatively better than Adnan Akmal as a batsman too. In the match against South African Invitation XI, Sarfaraz justified his selection by scoring 93, holding up the inning at a time when all other batsmen had failed. And if he repeats the same in the Test series, he may ruin the chances of Akmal brothers’ return. By comparison, the hosts have AB de Villiers, who is not only a complete wicketkeeper, but a batsman of many talents. Moreover, his form has been quite well against Pakistan in the past.

Now comes fielding, and in this department, South Africans are not only better than Pakistan, but are unmatched in the world. Though, in India, Pakistan showed a lot of improvement in fielding, they still need to acclimatise themselves to the fast conditions in the African country.

Looking at the recent Test series between South Africa and New Zealand, batting seems to be the decisive factor in victory. Despite a good show by the bowlers, the tourists kept on losing matches because the batsmen failed to score.

The comparison shows a clear dominance of the hosts in the tour, but with determination and positive attitude, Pakistan can change the results. Anyway, cricket fans are expected to experience very vigorous matches, no matter who the winners are.
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