8 October 2013
The Proteas begin their summer with a tour of the United Arab Emirates to face Pakistan. The test series, which starts on 14 October, will see the return of South African captain Graeme Smith after six months on the sidelines with an ankle injury.
South Africa’s first outing will be against Pakistan A in a three-day game, starting on Tuesday.
Smith, a 110-test veteran, has admitted that he feels like a rookie again after his time out of the side. However, he recently told the media that his drive to play remains as strong as ever. “When you have been captain from the age of 22 and helped to develop a team, you want to see it through,” he said.
South Africa go into the two test series as the clear leaders in the ICC’s test rankings, well clear of second placed England and India. While Pakistan is ranked only sixth, they thoroughly outplayed England at the beginning of 2012 in Dubai, winning the test series 3-0, by 10 wicket, 72 and 71 run margins.
The Proteas met Pakistan earlier this year in South Africa, winning the three test series 3-0. However, the vastly different conditions in the UAE renders that result almost meaningless in assessing the forthcoming series.
England struggled against Pakistan spinners Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, who claimed 43 wickets between them at an average of only 15.6. Smith, though, reckoned the Proteas are better prepared than England to take on the challenges posed by the Pakistani slow bowlers.
“I watched the series. The ball spun a bit, but I thought England weren’t as mentally prepared as they could have been,” Smith said.
“We understand the style of cricket we want to play. We understand how to be successful in different conditions.
“We expect the wickets to spin. We expect the worst in that regard, and Ajmal and how we handle him could be the key to the tour.”
Previously, when South Africa and Pakistan met on similar wickets in the Abu Dhabi in late 2010, Ajmal was a non-factor, picking up only three wickets at an average of 65.66 in two tests. Smith will be hoping for more of the same.
JP Duminy is set to return to the test team after close to a year out because of injury. “I’m quite happy to be starting back in,” Duminy said after the Proteas’ training session in Sharjah on Monday.
“I’m really just excited to be back in test cricket to be honest. South Africa hasn’t played in seven months and everyone is geared up for the series.”
For coach Russell Domingo, it will be his first test series in charge of the Proteas. He has big shoes to fill, taking over from Gary Kirsten, who took South Africa to the number one ranking in the five-day format of the game, and then well clear of the other test-playing nations in the ICC rankings.
Luckily for Domingo, he has an experienced squad filled with players who have proved their ability in the spin-friendly conditions of Asia previously, including not only batsmen like Smith, Duminy, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis, but fast bowlers like Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
On both of their most recent tours of India, in 2008 and 2010, the Proteas, who were not number one at the time, recorded innings victories to prove they have the weaponry to compete effectively in sub-continental conditions.
Winning against the talented, but sometimes inconsistent Pakistanis will be a tough challenge, but it’s similar to some South Africa has faced in recent years and emerged from with honour.
SOUTH AFRICAN TEST SQUAD
Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Jean-Paul Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Jacques Kallis, Rory Kleinveldt, Morne Morkel, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Thami Tsolekile