By : Arman Imam
A nocturnal, lazy teenager whose first loves are good food, playing sports and all things cricket.
(This article was written before news of haris sohail’s injury came out)
When the Proteas meet Pakistan in Auckland on Saturday, it will be a battle of the two extremities of the cricketing spectrum. South Africa, who have an aura of consistency about them versus Pakistan, who have the “unpredictability” tag stapled to their foreheads.
South Africa, after their second match stumble against India have been in enviable batting form to say the least. The first team to score over 400 runs in consecutive matches has the firepower to send shivers down opposition spines. In Amla, du Plessis, de Villiers, Duminy, and Miller, they have five individual centurions in a mere four matches. Add to that the explosive form of Rilee Rossouw and the quality of De Cock and the Proteas have a plethora of game changing batsmen who can take the game away in the blink of an eye. With the wicket taking abilities of Steyn, Morkel, and Imran Tahir, they shape up as a formidable one day unit and have rightfully been marked as one of the favorites down under given their abundance of match winners. If they do have a chink in their armor however, it is the lack of a 5th bowler (especially if JP Duminy continues to miss out through injury) and the depth bowling.
On the other end of the spectrum are the ever inconsistent Men in Green. For all the hue and cry about the inexperience and lack of quality in the Pakistani bowling attack, they have shaped up quite nicely barring the death overs against the West Indies, while the middle orders still remain a concern. The quartet of Irfan, Sohail Khan, Rahat Ali, and Wahab, all boast of different skills and no two are similar to each other. All four can 140 km and above, while Irfan and Wahab get close to 150. Although an unknown entity, Pakistan’s pace battery can rival the best in the world; add to that the destructive Afridi and the Pakistani bowling cannot be taken lightly. It’s with their top order batting, though, that Pakistan has been giving its fans heart attacks and its critics laughs. A highest opening stand of 11 in four games is a testament to how underwhelming they have been. A bit of relief can be provided by Ahmed Shehzad and no.3 Haris Sohail who were amongst the runs against the Emiratis. Pakistan still seems to be struggling with to find the best partner to pair Ahmed Shehzad with at the top. The Younis Khan experiment was a bust, and their specialist opener Nasir Jamshed, has found himself at the center of memes and jokes more often than he has found the center of his bat. So far, his parody twitter account has had more success than his opening exploits this World Cup. If Pakistan can somehow sort out their opening woes and ensure the top order can consolidate the new ball threat and set a platform, the middle-late order prowess of Umar Akmal, Sohaib Maqsood, and the nation’s favorite teenager, Shahid Afridi can be brought to the forefront, as was the case in the last match.
One question before the match will be how important the toss is going to be given the possibility of rain at Eden Park. Both teams prefer to bat first and both are modest chasers, so it will be interesting to see how they may go about their tactics come coin time.
It seems that JP Duminy has been slowly but surely recovering from his hamstring strain but whether or not he will be fit in time for the clash on the 7th remains to be seen. If RSA want him to feature, then the most likely candidate to make way would be Farhaan Behardien given Rillee Rossouw’s impactful 60’s in his only two opportunities in the tournament. Quinton De Cock has also been a worry at the top of the order with only 27 runs in 4 matches. His fate may be lie in skipper AB’s willingness to keep wicket, a decision he has been reluctant to take in recent times. If AB does, however decide to don the gloves, Rossouw, who has shown his ability to adapt to various situations, would be moved up from the middle-order to one of the opening slots. The recently injured Vernon will also find it difficult to find a spot in the lineup against Pakistan given Kyle Abbot’s six scalps in two matches.
Likely XI: 1.Hashim Amla 2.Quinton De Cock (wk) 3.Faf du Plessis 4.Rillee Rossouw 5.AB de Villiers (c) 6.David Miller 7.Farhaan Behardien/JP Duminy 8.Dale Steyn 9.Kyle Abbott 10.Morne Morkel and 11.Imran Tahir
Two of the most commonly mentioned names from the Pakistan squad over the past three weeks have been of players who share just one match between them ; Yasir Shah and Sarfaraz Ahmed. With all the noise from social media, the public, and current and former chairmen alike back home, the Pakistan think tank must feel pressured to replace Jamshed with the audacious and almost cavalier like stroke play of Sarfaraz Ahmed, a ploy which would also see him lift the wicket-keeping burden from Akmal, who has struggled while keeping against spin. If the management is skeptical about playing Ahmed as an opener, there is also the option to slot him down the order and have Haris open, but given coach Waqar Younis’ recent statements, Pakistan are likely to persist with Nasir. Honestly speaking, throwing in Sarfaraz for his first match against the likes of Dale Steyn would be a baptism by fire and for this reason it is likely that Nasir will get the go ahead. Given the non-subcontinent team’s well documented problems with spin, there will be many calls to include Yasir Shah at the expense of a pacer. Those calls however may be silenced given the overcast conditions on Saturday and the unreasonably small boundaries of Eden Park. Team reports suggest that Irfan’s absence from UAE’s innings was precautionary and that he should be able to lace up his size 15s come Saturday.
Likely XI: 1.Nasir Jamshed 2.Ahmed Shehzad 3.Haris Sohail 4.Misbah-ul-Haq (c) 5.Umar Akmal (wk) 6.Sohaib Maqsood 7.Shahid Afridi 8.Wahab Riaz 9.Sohail Khan 10.Rahat Ali and 11.Mohammad Irfan
Mohammad Irfan vs. Hashim Amla.
With 21 wickets in 10 matches-five of which are the wickets of Hashim Amla- at an average under 20 against South Africa, Irfan’s opening spell could prove to be a very significant juncture in this game as over 50% of his wickets have been openers. How South Africa deal with him will shape the rest of their innings. While the classy Amla has struggled with Irfan in the past, his mammoth 159 in his last innings, will hold him in good stead for the battle with the giant.
South African new ball bowlers vs. Nasir Jamshed.
Three matches and three miscued pull shots have been the story of the tournament for Jamshed who has scored only 5 runs in 3 matches. If Nasir is to play, then the likes of Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn will certainly play him some chin-music. Expect the odd short ball to him in an attempt to exploit his recent susceptibility against bounce. Jamshed who is usually very good against the short ball was first targeted with it back in South Africa’s tour of the UAE in late 2013 and he will be looking to put his demons and critics to bed. Success in this game is an uphill battle for the burly left-hander, but should he overcome this daunting challenge, it may prove to be the push start he needed to get back to his elegant and fluent best.
Bowlers vs. Small boundaries.
When New Zealand met with the Aussies last week at Eden Park, David Warner top-edged a 52 meter six. 52 METERS, AstughfirAllah! When you add this to the already tough proposition of bowling at the death and the new field restrictions, bowling is not easy.
Imran Tahir– While most will look at RSA’s powerful batting and hostile fast bowling, the leggie Imran Tahir can often be overlooked. And while his celebrations are bemusing, there is nothing puzzling about the dangers of his middle over spell and his variations. He is an out and out wicket taker who has had success against Pakistan in the past and has also enjoyed his fair share of wickets this tournament. However, the important question will however be: which Imran Tahir shows up on Saturday? Because despite his recent triumphs, his Pakistani blood ensures, that his with his flamboyance, comes inconsistency. It will be interesting to see how Pakistan chose to play him and the 5th bowler(s).
Haris Sohail– When talking about Pakistan’s genuine batsmen in limited overs formats, the men most talked about are Misbah, Umar Akmal, and Ahmed Shehzad. While the solidity of Misbah and the prodigious talent and flair of the Lahori duo are certainly talking points, one feels that the performance of the up and coming Haris Sohail will be important towards Pakistan’s success. The humble lefty just recently cemented his place in the team with impressive performances against the Kiwis and has for the first time in his career been entrusted with the all important no.3 position in which he has gotten a few good starts and a 70 in his last outing. How he handles not only the Proteas’ attack, but himself in this match can be key for his te