In his latest column for Pakpassion.net, former Pakistan fast bowler, Mohammad Zahid analyses Pakistan's prospects on the tour of South Africa and unlike coach Dav Whatmore, who advised his fast bowlers not to get hyped up, suggests that the trio of Umar Gul, Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan 'get in the faces of Graeme Smith's men.'
A lot of people look at the Test series in South Africa with a certain amount of fear and negativity and you can say that is justified given Pakistan’s record in South Africa. However I’m quite positive about the upcoming three-Test series and think that Pakistan could hold their own against the best Test team in the world, provided the Pakistani batsmen give the bowlers enough runs to play with.
The key for Pakistan is how their top six hold up against the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander. The series will be a thorough test of the technique, temperament and ability of all the Pakistani batsmen and the top order will need to raise their game if they are to challenge the Proteas. A complete batsman is one who can make runs in all conditions and against all bowling attacks, and this is the opportunity for the Pakistani batsmen to show the world what they are made of and to raise their profiles.
The Pakistani batting in India was acceptable rather than brilliant. Nasir Jamshed looked very compact and there were some flashes of brilliance from the others but batting in South Africa is a different ball game. The Indian quick bowlers were medium pace, whereas the South African pace bowlers are going to be bowling consistently around the 90mph mark. The batsmen will need to show character, guts and determination and I do worry about the Pakistani batting and it’s ability to collapse. Guts and determination can overcome technical frailties, look at Javed Miandad for example, he was not the most technically gifted batsman but he put a price on his wicket and fought hard against all bowling attacks. The likes of Hafeez and others can take a leaf out of Miandad’s approach and mindset. Hafeez’s technique against the quick bowlers isn’t ideal but if he can show grit and determination then I’m sure he can have a good series in South Africa.
If you look at the likely combinations of the two teams, then Pakistan’s advantage is clearly in the spin bowling department. However, that advantage is negated by the relative pace bowling attacks. The South African bowling attack is mouth watering to watch for a former fast bowler like myself, they are simply phenomenal with no apparent weakness. The trio are a lovely combination of styles and methods. The aggression, skill and variations of Steyn, the awkward bounce of Morkel who I believe is a very underrated bowler and then the ability of Philander to put the ball in areas where the batsmen simply do not know what to do. It’s a combination that really is fascinating and brilliant to watch and gives the batsmen no respite.
The Pakistan pace bowling line up is relatively inexperienced with the exception of Umar Gul and that is a slight concern, but it can be overcome. Gul needs to lead the pack, stand up and be counted. It’s a big series for Gul , he’s a very good cricketer, a team man but at times I feel he has not done himself justice with the ball. His Test bowling average of just under 34 should be better and given the qualities he possesses as a bowler and the skills he has, that bowling average should be under 30. The pace bowlers around Gul in South Africa are a very inexperienced bunch and it’s absolutely vital that Gul leads the way and guides the others.
I enjoyed watching Junaid Khan recently in India, that boy has something about him. His passion for the game and his energy can really lift his team mates and he has the ability to bowl deliveries that can unsettle and dismiss any batsman in the world. There are not many bowlers around these days who can lay claim to such a skill. In South Africa he must not get carried away and bowl too short, and instead should stick to what he is good at and pitch the ball up.
I always have faith in Pakistani bowlers, over the years they have more often than not delivered and without wanting to sound biased they have won more matches for the Pakistan team than the batsmen have. What I want to see from Junaid, Gul and Irfan is aggression. The South African pace bowlers will be in the faces of the Pakistani batsmen and I want our trio of pace bowlers to do the same to the South Africans. Your body language as a bowler is very important and that is partly why Pakistan’s bowlers performed so well against India recently. They never let the Indian batsmen settle and were up and at them all the time. The Pakistani bowlers do not need to say too much to the South African batsmen, the occasional glare in the follow through just gives a batsman a hint that you are there and not there just to make up the numbers. Pakistan has always had aggressive bowlers and that is a trend that the current crop of quick bowlers needs to continue. Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar were all aggressive and I really want to see Irfan, Junaid and Gul get in the faces of the South African batsmen in the Test series. The aggression has to be controlled though, it’s all in the eyes, sometimes a look is enough and if channelled properly that aggression can lift the whole of the team.
I’m not too worried about the fact that there are only 4 pace bowlers in the Test squad. Only three will play and you have one in reserve so that’s fine by me. If any of the quick bowlers get injured or the management feel they need more cover in that area then I’m sure in a day or two a replacement will arrive.
I was delighted to see Irfan, who hails from the same cricket club as myself in Gaggu Mandi, bowling so well in India. He really roughed up the Indian batsmen. He’s improved so much since the last time I saw him in Pakistan a couple of years ago and looks much stronger and fitter and a more complete bowler. The hard work he has put in with his coaches since starting his first-class career has really paid off, but I am concerned about his levels of fitness for Test cricket. Bowling four overs in a T20 and then ten overs in an ODI is not too difficult. But being out in the field for potentially 90 overs in a day, bowling 20 or so overs, is a tough ask for Irfan and he will have to be managed very carefully by his captain Misbah-ul-Haq. If not we could see Irfan leaving this tour prematurely.
The series should be a very interesting one and I hope that whatever the outcome the Pakistan team do their talent justice and play to their potential. Too often in South Africa, Pakistani teams are a beaten side even before a series starts, hopefully this time we’ll see the them put up a good fight.