NOT far from Pretoria, the diplomatic capital of South Africa, Centurion is a leafy and a picturesque suburb where at the SuperSport Park, Pakistan will be faced with a severe test facing South Africa in the first of the three Tests that begins today on their latest tour.
Not that it is the first time that this is going to happen because on their previous outings too Pakistan never won a Test here but had their taste of victory and defeat a couple of other venues but yet unable to win a series in South Africa.
This itself comes out as an intimidating challenge against a team which itself has had their ups and downs in recent years. The closest being their loss in a series in Sri Lanka recently.
That does not, however, make the home side a bunny against Pakistan for a simple reason that they have had a reasonable amount of success on their home grounds since coming back from isolation for 21 years from international cricket for their country’s policy of ‘apartheid’, that is racial segregation.
A release of Nelson Mandela, the legendary revolutionary leader, and his becoming the first black President of South Africa did change all that including all sports.
On Pakistan’s last visit here in 2013 and not far from Centurion a heinous crime was committed by blade runner Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius who allegedly murdered his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. I was then not staying far away from the scene of the crime.
Pistorius became a center of attention not only here but also for the entire world and that Test at Centurion paled into insignificance after that incident.
Nothing of the sort expected here now despite the pace threat of Dale Steyn, who is back in the fold again after injury problems and who will be partnered by Kagiso Rabada and most likely Duanne Olivier. As fast bowlers, they do have that killer instinct when on the song.
Steyn is now one wicket away from being the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket for his country when he’ll overtake the mark of 421 by Shaun Pollock and looking forward to impressing.
On bouncy and fast racks of South Africa especially here at Centurion they do pose a threat of a different kind, not of a life-threatening like Oscar’s was but definitely one to be careful of by the Pakistan batsmen who have in recent Tests against New Zealand in the UAE failed to stand up to the challenge while chasing runs.
Here they will be up against a home side which is hungry to perform in front of their home crowd which will have a reasonable amount of presence compared to nearly spectator-less matches in the UAE.
Pakistan’s only two Test wins in this country since they visited first in 1994-95 for a solitary Test does not make them the favorites. Only if Pakistan batsmen apply themselves to stand up to the task to score runs with the help of Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail, Babar Azam, and Asad Shafiq, their problems will be half solved.
Pakistan’s salvage depends a lot on the way they bat, most of the time in a suicidal way.
Bowling is Pakistan’s strength though but the disappointment is that Mohammad Abbas is still struggling with his shoulder injury and that sets them with a handicap to start with but Yasir Shah, the leg-spinner, could be their trump card in case he bowls well and the pitches help him.
Keshav Maharaj, the left-arm spinner from South Africa, has been successful on his home turf and is Yasir’s counterpart in the Faf du Plessis team.
Hashim Amla, one of the South African greats, is back but out-of-form recently, du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar, and company will be as much in the quest for runs against Pakistan attack including the returning Mohammad Amir and Yasir.
The Centurion wicket has a reputation of being treacherous for teams batting last and the toss obviously play apart besides the way Pakistan bat to upset odds.