Pakistan seek batting form in South Africa tour opener
Islamabad: Pakistan’s batsmen will seek form when they open their tour of South Africa with a three-day match against a South African Invitation XI at Willowmoore Park in Benoni.
It is the only game for the tourists before the first of three Tests starts in Centurion on December 26. Pakistan twice suffered fourth-innings batting collapses in losing a recent Test series against New Zealand in the United Arab Emirates.
Both captain Sarfraz Ahmed and coach Mickey Arthur acknowledged on arrival in South Africa that posting competitive totals was crucial if they are to match the hosts in what is shaping as a battle between two teams with strong bowling attacks.
With the warm-up match clashing with the resumption of South Africa’s four-day franchise competition, the Invitation XI is drawn from the country’s second-tier provincial competition.
The opposition is unlikely to be especially challenging, but it is an opportunity for the Pakistanis to get used to local conditions at a ground just 60 kilometres (37 miles) from the venue for the first Test.
Arthur, who coached South Africa from 2005 until 2010, told journalists he believed his young batsmen will cope better with conditions in South Africa than the low, slow pitches of the UAE.
“There are some very talented young batsmen there. They don’t stand on leg stump anymore. Our batsmen get to off stump, they cover the bounce, they cover the pace and they cover the swing.”
Even so, the Tests are likely to be a major challenge in a country where Pakistan have won only two Tests while losing nine on five tours.
South Africa’s bowling will be spearheaded by Kagiso Rabada and fit-again Dale Steyn, although the hosts will be without the retired Morne Morkel and Lungi Ngidi, who has a long-term injury.
Vernon Philander is a serious doubt for the first Test because of a hairline fracture on his right thumb.
Pakistan have their own injury concerns, with fast bowler Mohammad Abbas and opening batsman Fakhar Zaman undergoing treatment in a bid to get them fit for the first Test.
The Tests will be followed by five one-day internationals in which both teams will be looking to settle on combinations ahead of the Cricket World Cup in England and Wales, starting on May 30.
There will also be three Twenty20 internationals — a format in which Pakistan top the international rankings.