ABU DHABI, Oct 13: Top-ranked South Africa will look to stretch their unbeaten record away from home when the two-Test series against Pakistan begins here on Monday.
The Proteas has won eight and drawn three Test series since losing to Sri Lanka in 2006 — with one of the draws coming against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates three years ago.
Fit-again South Africa captain Graeme Smith said on Sunday that he knows his team has the ability to do well in all conditions around the world.
“I think every time you do overcome winning away from home, there’s a certain strength that you get as a team and as an individual,” Smith said. “It’s hard to put your finger on what that actually is.”
Smith said he doesn’t expect much change in the slow nature of the pitch at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium which saw A.B. de Villiers scoring career-best 278 not out during the last series in November 2010 and overtook his captain’s Test-best score of 277.
“To me, [the pitch] looks pretty similar in many ways,” he said. “The wickets here certainly on the first morning seem to have something little bit in them, there’s a little bit of swing and seam movement and then they seem to get really good.”
South Africa’s top order is likely to be tested by a three-pronged Pakistani spin attack — led by star off-spinner Saeed Ajmal and two slow left-armers, Abdul Rehman and uncapped Zulfiqar Babar.
Saeed made little impression in the last series three years ago when he took three wickets in two Test matches.
“We’ve had a good success [against Saeed] and that’s nice to know,” Smith said. “Last time we played Saeed really well and I think he ended up missing a few games on the tour.
“He’s a key performer for Pakistan and he’s a world class performer. ... We’ve had some good chats about him and all the Pakistani bowlers and how we would like to play them.”
The only worry for Smith is that this is the Proteas first away Test series in 2013.
“You’ve got to be realistic that we haven’t played for the last six months and it might take us time to get up to the standards that we were last season when we’ve been playing lot of cricket,” Smith said. “It might take us little bit of time to get to that, but we’ve certainly covered all our bases in our preparation.
“Our goal is to put Pakistan under pressure, and I think that’s something we’ve been able to do. We’ve been able to handle pressure very well and exert lots of pressure on the oppositions so that’s something we would like to do over the five days.”
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq agreed with Smith that it will be a big challenge for Saeed to run through the likes of Jacques Kallis, Smith, de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and J.P. Duminy, also returning to the squad after recovering from an Achilles injury.
Saeed has some good memories of the UAE when he grabbed 24 wickets against England last year in a 3-0 rout of the then-top ranked side.
“He [Saeed] was new to England and that’s why they struggled against him,” Misbah said. “South African batsmen have played him more, played him well in ODIs as well so it’s a big challenge for Ajmal and he will have to lift his bowling because he is up against a team who plays him well.”
Pakistan’s batsmen had a good run in practice matches, with uncapped openers Ahmed Shehzad and Shan Masood both scoring half centuries against South Africa and Younis Khan warming up for Test match with a century against the UAE.
Either Ahmed or the left-handed Shan, who celebrates his 24th birthday on Monday, is expected to partner Khurram Manzoor in the first Test and Misbah said it will be tough to decide which opener to drop.
“It’s a tough choice because both the guys are batting well at the moment, but I think it’s good for our team,” he said.
Misbah wanted his team-mates to forget the humiliation in South Africa and try to prove that they could compete against a good side.
“It’s not good to be in the past, always focus the present and future,” he said. “No doubt that it’s a tough series, we are playing against a good team but it’s an opportunity to perform against a good team and prove that we are also a good side.”
PAKISTAN: Khurram Manzoor, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Umar Amin, Adnan Akmal, Saeed Ajmal, Zulfiqar Babar, Abdur Rehman, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Rahat Ali, Asad Shafiq, Shan Masood, Ahmed Shehzad.
SOUTH AFRICA: Graeme Smith (captain), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, A.B. de Villiers, J.P. Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir, Dean Elgar, Rory Kleinveldt, Thami Tsolekile.
Umpires: Rod Tucker and Paul Reiffel (both Australia).
TV umpire: Ian Gould (England).
Match referee: David Boon (Australia).—AP