The Proteas are in Pakistan for the first time since 2007, for a highly anticipated Test series, which starts in 2 days. Given how South Africa have fared in Test cricket in the subcontinent, this is an important series for the visitors.
Since the last time the Proteas toured Pakistan was 13 years ago, not one of the current Proteas players have experience of Test cricket in Pakistan. Faf du Plessis however has experience of T20 cricket in the country, for both the World XI and in the Pakistan Super League. As the most experienced Test player for the Proteas, with 67 Tests, it will be up to him to provide assistance to the others.
This is an important series for du Plessis, who has not scored a century in the subcontinent, and knowing this, he understands it is important for him to do well overseas.
Given the poor form of many Pakistan players in New Zealand, Pakistan had no choice but to make some significant changes to their squad, and named 9 uncapped players in their place. Kamran Ghulam has been rewarded for his consistent performances in domestic cricket. As the leading run-scorer in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy with 1249 runs, Pakistan will be hopeful he can carry this form over into the Test arena.
A big boost for Pakistan is the return of Babar Azam, who they missed terribly in New Zealand. Babar was in spectacular form in 2020, averaging 68 in Test cricket. His experience, leadership and confidence are priceless for Pakistan.
Both teams will favour bowling over batting in this series, with Pakistan having the ever-impressive Shaheen Shah Afridi in their ranks. Of his 13 Tests, Afridi has only played 3 Tests at home in Pakistan, as reflected by his slightly higher than expected bowling average of 33. A hugely talented and intelligent bowler, he will be looking forward to another chance to play at home.
KG Rabada, who is back in the squad after injury, last played any form of international cricket in November 2020, and has not played Test cricket since January 2020. South Africa will be hoping this long lay-off does not affect his performance. With two world class bowlers up against each other, the battle between him and Afridi will be exhilarating to watch unfold.
After shuffling their batting order around against Sri Lanka last month, South Africa will be better suited to readjust batting positions. If all selected, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock should occupy the 5, 6, & 7 slots.
Quinton de Kock demonstrated that batting at 5 is perhaps not the most optimal batting position for him, and with an average of 49.87 batting at 7, it does both him and the team well to keep him in this position.
Keegan Petersen has been waiting in the wings for an opportunity, he deserves his chance, and needing a genuine number 3, this should be his chance.
The National Stadium, Karachi has hosted two Tests since 2019, where a lot of runs have been scored and lot of wickets by fast bowlers have been taken. South Africa could opt for two genuine spinners in Keshav Maharaj and George Linde, or boost their batting with the solitary spinner in Maharaj and hope Dean Elgar and Keegan Petersen, if selected, can roll their arms over.
With some world class players on show, and with sunny and pleasant weather forecast, we should be in for a cracker of a Test match.
The first Test starts on Tuesday 26th January, at 7am SA time.