Daijiworld Media Network
Dubai, Oct 23: It was expected that South Africa wouldn't have it easy going into the first Test. The No. 1 ranking comes with high expectations to adjust quickly to conditions, no matter what they are. However, South Africa succumbing with more than a day to spare in Abu Dhabi was a surprise.
Pakistan won the toss and chose to bat.
Pakistan: 1 Shan Masood, 2 Khurram Manzoor, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Asad Shafiq, 7 Adnan Akmal (wk), 8 Saeed Ajmal, 9 Zulfiqar Babar, 10 Junaid Khan, 11 Mohammad Irfan
South Africa: 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Dean Elgar, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 JP Duminy, 7 Faf du Plessis, 8 Imran Tahir, 9 Vernon Philander, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Morne Morkel
Pitch and conditions
After the first Test, Misbah had called for another "result pitch" in Dubai. The word is that it is expected to assist the spinners even more, but Misbah described it as a "typical Dubai wicket which we've played on before."
The visitors had a warm-up game before the Test but were still undercooked, after months of inactivity as a Test unit. The five-day gap between Tests might still not be enough to figure out how to square the series, but South Africa have shown in the past that they have the resilience to bounce back in adversity.
Pakistan's clinical performance was not that much of a surprise either. They are a transformed team in the UAE, when compared to how they perform on away tours. Ask England. Pakistan trounced the former No.1 side 3-0 in early 2012 and their most recent win in Abu Dhabi was their fourth consecutive victory against a top-ranked team in the UAE.
The result was received with much fanfare largely because of the gloom that followed that embarrassing defeat in Harare a month ago. The top order had looked wobbly, the middle order depended far too much on Misbah-ul-Haq and there were doubts over whether Pakistan had not only the hunger but the resources to succeed in Tests. That they turned it around so quickly has lifted the mood among their fans.
South Africa will not be able to field their best XI, with their best batsman and only centurion from Abu Dhabi, Hashim Amla, flying home for the birth of his child. Dale Steyn has fitness concerns too, and though he wasn't at his best in Abu Dhabi, his participation remains critical. Spin remains their biggest chink: Robin Peterson or JP Duminy cannot run through sides like Saeed Ajmal can. South Africa's seamers identified the correct lengths - a fuller one - to bowl on these pitches rather late in the first Test, when they had all of 40 to defend. They need to apply that more consistently to test Pakistan.
Should South Africa lose, they will still retain their No.1 ranking but it will narrow the gap between them and England. Pakistan will finish the series at No. 4 irrespective of what happens in Dubai. A draw is enough to seal the series, 1-1 will also improve their ranking, but 2-0 will extinguish the demons of Zimbabwe.
In the spotlight
Teams tend to retain a winning combination, but Azhar Ali is under pressure to keep his spot. He has looked a shadow of the batsman who dominated England last year and his troubles began in South Africa earlier this year. Azhar had scores of 11 and 3 in Abu Dhabi and his struggle has increased pressure on the senior players below him in the line-up. Pakistan might want to sandwich him between Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan or swap him with Asad Shafiq at No.6.
The stripped-down DRS without Hot Spot in the first Test did not strengthen the case for technology. When decisions were referred, play was held up for longer than usual, because the third umpire had to work with limited resources. Sometimes there was a sound as the ball passed the bat, but with no obvious deviation to back it up, it was a conundrum for the third umpire. Umpires will continue to be under pressure in these conditions and with no Hot Spot for the Ashes, it could be more of the same in the coming months.
With Amla absent, South Africa are likely to play Dean Elgar. Another option is to bring in the wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile and play AB de Villiers as a specialist batsman. The team manager Mohammed Moosajee said that Steyn's MRI didn't reveal a hamstring pull and so they are treating it as a tightness. Steyn will undergo a fitness test on the morning of the match, and if he misses out, Rory Kleinveldt may play. Smith also hinted at playing the legspinner Imran Tahir.
Pakistan were non committal on possible changes. With the pitch expected to turn more, there was talk of bringing in Abdur Rehman as the third spinner, at the expense of a batsman.
Stats and trivia
Misbah has 11 Test wins as captain, currently level with Inzamam-ul-Haq. If Pakistan win, he will equal Wasim Akram who has 12 wins. Imran Khan and Javed Miandad top the list with 14 wins as captain.
South Africa last lost a Test series in early 2009, against Australia.