SA bowlers pose tough challenge to Pakistan
To beat South Africa, opposition teams need to hone in on one thing: the world No.1 side's bowlers.
"The big battle between any team coming up against the current South African one will be between their batsmen against the South African bowlers," Vincent Barnes, manager of the high performance centre, who was in charge of the South African Invitation side that played against the touring Pakistanis, told ESPNCricinfo. "If you can tame the bowlers, you can get close but if you can't, you will get a hiding."
On the evidence of the tour match, which few read into, Pakistan's batsmen have some work to do. Nasir Jamshed and Mohammad Hafeez did well in both innings but of the middle order only Misbah-ul-Haq scored a half-century.
"It looked like they were just trying to occupy the crease and then some of them got good balls and got out," Barnes said. "We can't judge too much on that. Guys like Azhar Ali and Younis Khan have scored big runs in the past. Jamshed looks like a guy whose natural game is to play his shots and Hafeez is a quality player who scores both sides of the wicket."
While the batsmen will be the ones under scrutiny, some may see the real contest as a battle between bowling attacks as Pakistan's has a lot to offer. Barnes regards Umar Gul as their "best bowler who is very skilful" and Saeed Ajmal as the "key factor" to their chances of success.
He also saw first-hand the two bowlers who will be relatively unknown quantities to South Africa - Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan. Left-armer Junaid swings the ball both ways while Irfan, at more than two metres tall, is expected to extract steep bounce. "Junaid drifted in an out a bit. He had some good spells and some average ones," Barnes said. "Irfan is definitely a massive presence. Bounce will be his strength but he struggled with his lengths and didn't seem to swing the ball much."
Irfan's Test debut is the most widely talked about point in the lead up to the series. While Jacques Kallis joked that some of the South African bowlers will go to practice on stilts, he does not actually seem too fazed about the prospect of facing him.
"Morne Morkel is not too much shorter than that so we are used to facing quite a bit of bounce. It will be slightly different but nothing we haven't seen before," he said. "There is so much video analysis around. I suppose it takes a few balls to get used to facing them but once you've seen them on video, you get an idea." Morkel, at around 1.9 metres tall, has been known to prosper on the more lively pitches on the Highveld and Irfan will hope to do the same in the Tests at Johannesburg and Centurion.
But it is not bounce or swing that Hashim Amla thinks will make the difference in the series. Precision and discipline are the traits he rates highest in his home conditions. "I've always felt that in South African conditions, it's usually the guys that are not necessarily quick but quite accurate who do well. Vernon is an example of that," he said.
"I think they've got a good bowling attack and what helps the sub-continent teams is that they usually bowl on flat tracks. So when they do come to a wicket that does assist them they have the discipline."
Local conditions are also what Kallis hopes will give South Africa's bowlers the upperhand in the contest between the pace packs. "They've got some good quality batters that have been around a long time but what we have in our favour is that they are not used to our conditions. They will be tested with the short ball," he warned. Other sub-continent teams have been told the same but Pakistan are the team that have prospered most. They will hope to continue that run.