Pakistan goes into a dead rubber game at the Wanderer’s in Johannesburg on Friday desperate to try and save face. With a cobbled together team that can’t seem to find any semblance of rhythm, another whitewash looms large over the captaincy of Sarfraz Ahmed. And with rivals India simultaneously doing so well down under, becoming the first Asian team to win a test series in Australia, the selector’s axe may fall on more than just the skipper.
South Africa hasn’t exactly been kind to Pakistan in what were much better times. The team has managed to defeat the Protease only four times in 25 games. One of these wins was in Lahore in 2003 while the other was in Dubai 10 years later. Pakistan’s two wins in South Africa also came nearly a decade apart, the first in Durban in 1998 where they edged just past by 29 runs, and the second at Port Elizabeth in 2007 where they had a comfortable five wicket win. The common factor in both tests was the same: sheer pace.
If the first two matches of the series have shown anything, its that South Africa has been outpacing Pakistan. Dayle Steyn, Vernon Philander and Duanne Olivier have effectively bullied the Pakistani batsmen into submission. The token resistance that they have faced has been easily swated aside. The Pakistani fastmen have in turn had their time to shine as well. Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Amir have both gotten multiple four wicket halls in the series, but have failed to make the South African batsmen toil for their runs. The fast wickets naturally assist them, but what lacks is the intensity.
In 1998, when Pakistan won their first game in South Africa, it was on the back of a Shoaib Akhtar special – 5/43 in just 12 overs. In the second innings, a laborious 37 over spell from Mushtaq Ahmed was aided by three quick wickets from Waqar Younis. Again, in 2007, it was Shoaib Akhtar who thundered in again taking four wickets in 11 overs and getting injured in the process. In the second innings, with Akhtar out, Muhammad Asif went on to take five wickets and win Pakistan the match.
Admittedly, in both games, Pakistan was assisted by some solid batting. Younis Khan, Kamran Akmal, Saeed Anwar and Azhar Mehmood all went hard at the ball and scored runs. Not too many, but just enough to allow the pace magic to work. Pakistan has had a batting problem, especially with Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali, but they’ve also had flashes of brilliance with Babar Azam, Shaan Masood, Asad Shafiq and even Imam ul Haq.
So bringing in Muhammad Abbas as another pacer might not be such a bad idea for Pakistan. And with a whitewash likely and the series already lost, there seems no point in playing it safe.