KARACHI: Considering South Africa boast of a formidable pace artillery at their disposal, Pakistan are almost certain to put the tourists trial by spin when the first match of the two-Test series starts here at the National Stadium on Tuesday.
At cursory glance on the centre of the square at the iconic cricket venue amply suggests that South Africa are guaranteed to come up against the experienced Yasir Shah, who of late has struggled to run through the opposition as he did with great success on slow pitches of the UAE that was Pakistan’s home away from home until 2018.
The 34-year-old leg-spinner snared no less than 116 wickets in just 17 Tests on the tracks of Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi and with a phenomenal spinner’s strike rate of 51.2 — which puts his overall strike-rate of 57.5 marginally behind. Moreover, Yasir’s average per wicket on the UAE dustbowls is 24.56 but his career average of almost 31 (30.85) for his overall bag of 227 wickets in 43 Tests has interested the critics more than anything else.
During Saturday’s virtual media conference on the sidelines of the third practice session, Yasir appeared a trifle nervous after failing to bag a five-for in an innings since grabbing 14 wickets — 8-41 and 6-143 across both innings — against New Zealand at the Dubai International Stadium in December 2018.
In 15 innings of his last 10 Tests post-New Zealand series in 2018, Yasir has picked up just 25 wickets at an unimpressive average of 51.80 with 4-66 versus England at Old Trafford being best return among his five four-for.
“I think the obvious reason for this [below par showing] in the type of role one is assigned to take up. Generally, we Pakistan played in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, my job has been to play supporting role behind the pace bowlers because of the different pitch conditions,” Yasir explained. “Therefore it all depends on the playing conditions. I’m not offering any excuse bit that is the true picture. If you look at [my] track record in the UAE, Sri Lanka [24 wickets in three Tests) and the West Indies [25 in three], I’ve done much better in those places chiefly because the pitches were conducive for spinners.
“If you look around in recent times, you’ll notice spinners from other teams are also finding it increasingly tough to take wickets in clusters, particularly when the pitches offered more help for fast bowlers.”
Yasir said he is giving more attention to his fitness to be more successful in Test cricket.
“My aim is to perform in the way I used in the early stage of my Test career and fitness does matter because if you are in proper shape, it is much easier to get into the bowling rhythm,” the Swabi-born Yasir pledged. “I have not set [personal] goals as some players do. But my main target is to help Pakistan win on regular basis and become a strong team to challenge the best [Test] sides.
“Our sessions so far are very enjoyable in the sense that we are doing the drills exactly we do during play. Personally from my point of view, the presence of [former Pakistan spin legend] Saqlain Mushtaq is extremely beneficial for me. Together we are working on improving my skills in delivering googlies and he [Saqlain] has been going out of the way to boost my confidence,” Yasir revealed.
“Overall speaking, our training [sessions] have gone very well since we began on Thursday and all of us had been practising in match-like situations on the first two days.”
Asked to comment on fellow spinners Nauman Ali and Sajid Khan, who are both vying to claim their first Pakistan caps, Yasir praised their skills and predicted a bright future for the duo.
“I’m very impressive with the crop of spinners we have in the squad. Nauman has been someone who has been a consistent performer in domestic cricket for a while. Being a left-armer, Nauman is good at containing batsmen with his ability to bowl accurately because he is very experienced at the first-class level,” Yasir remarked.
“Sajid looks a decent off-spinner and possesses everything one can ask of a newcomer. He has got excellent variations and his ball rotation is exemplary. I’ve no doubt in mind that Sajid is a wicket-taking bowler.”
Yasir singled out South Africa’s frontline spinner Keshav Maharaj as the main threat for Pakistan if the pitch turns.
“He [Maharaj] is a decent slow left-armer who could be the trump card for them. Overall, I believe South Africa have a good side and we’ve to play very good cricket to beat them.”
Meanwhile, the South African squad had their first practice session at the National Stadium on Saturday.
Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2021