IN what is seen as a rare instance, Pakistan start as the underdogs on their home turf when they take on South Africa in the first of the two Tests at the National Stadium today. The hosts, despite their record of just two defeats in 40 Test matches at the historic cricket ground, will be aiming to salvage their dented pride after the calamitous New Zealand tour last month that resulted in Test and T20 defeats for Pakistan. The series, the first by a major cricketing nation in Pakistan in over a decade since the ghastly terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009, will pose a number of challenges for Babar Azam and his men as well as the high-profile support staff led by Misbah-ul-Haq. Both Babar, making his debut as Test skipper in Karachi, and under-fire head coach Misbah will be mindful of the fact that there is no room for mistakes now, especially after the New Zealand tour. There have been deafening cries for an overhaul while the media has been unsparing in its criticism. Thankfully, new chief selector Mohammad Wasim’s bold move in ousting the blundering seniors and inducting nine uncapped players might have spared Pakistan cricket further embarrassment.

Having said that, the South African team will be at full strength and are riding high having scored a comprehensive series win at home against Sri Lanka last month. The tourists, led by the multi-talented Quinton de Kock, boast fine players such as Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Kagiso Rabada, Dwaine Pretorius and Lungi Ngidi who are certain to pose a stiff challenge. Pakistan must go in with a positive mindset. They need to play aggressive cricket in order to lift the morale of the players and make the most of home conditions. It is time to take some hard decisions about all aspects of their game — captaincy, batting, bowling and fielding. That is the only way they can turn things around in Pakistan cricket.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2021

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