South Africa and Pakistan face selection posers
Cape Town - South Africa and Pakistan must resolve selection headaches ahead of the second Test starting at Newlands on Thursday.
South Africa’s six-wicket win in the first Test at Centurion was set up by the bowling of Duanne Olivier, who had match figures of 11 for 96.
Olivier got his chance because of an injury to Vernon Philander, who is fit again and will “definitely come back” to play at his home ground, according to captain Faf du Plessis. Philander has taken 49 wickets in nine Tests at Newlands at an average of 16.55.
Despite his performance at Centurion, Olivier is unlikely to be picked ahead of Kagiso Rabada, who finished 2018 as the world’s top-ranked Test bowler, or Dale Steyn, South Africa’s all-time leading wicket-taker.
Nor are South Africa likely to risk going into a Test at Newlands without spinner Keshav Maharaj. Which means Olivier will only play at the expense of a specialist batsman, with Theunis de Bruyn the most likely to make way.
The case for South Africa picking five bowlers is strengthened by Philander’s status as a reasonably reliable lower order batsman, who has scored 730 runs at an average of 27.03 in his last 21 Tests, going back to November 2016. His batting average at Newlands is 33.14.
Pakistan will also be welcoming back a first-choice fast bowler in Mohammad Abbas, with captain Sarfraz Ahmed saying after Centurion that Abbas had fully recovered from a shoulder injury.
Pakistan’s bowlers were impressive in the first Test but the touring team’s batting frailty is such that they will almost certainly have to drop a bowler, probably the talented but inexperienced Shaheen Shah Afridi, to accommodate Abbas.
Also fit after missing the first Test is batsman Haris Sohail, who seems certain to return. Shan Masood, who came into the side when fellow left-hander Sohail injured a knee during the pre-match warm-up, made an impressive 65 in the second innings in Centurion.
Masood batted at number three, but is normally an opening batsman. That means flamboyant Fakhar Zaman, who looked vulnerable against South Africa’s fast bowlers, could be in danger.
Bowlers dominated at Centurion, with the match finishing before tea on the third day. There is again likely to be assistance for the fast bowlers at Newlands but without the uneven bounce which was a feature in the first Test.
Pakistan will be looking for experienced batsmen like Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq to bat with more responsibility than they showed in Centurion.
South Africa will be hoping for a return to form for Du Plessis and opening batsman Aiden Markram.
Teams: South Africa (likely from): Faf du Plessis (captain), Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock (wkt), Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Duanne Olivier.
Pakistan (likely from): Sarfraz Ahmed (captain/wkt), Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Amir, Yasir Shah, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Shah Afridi.
Umpires: Bruce Oxenford (AUS), Joel Wilson (WIN) TV umpire: Sundaram Ravi (IND) Match referee: David Boon (AUS)