The Test series in South Africa was a brutal experience for Pakistan. They were comfortably beaten in all three matches despite establishing strong opening positions in two of them, whilst at the same time demonstrating an almost Australian inability to keep their quick bowlers fit.
A chance of redemption now presents itself for them as the tour switches to the shorter forms of the game, beginning with the first Twenty20 international on Friday. One day cricket, in both formats, has not been the South Africans’ strongest suit recently and Pakistan will fancy their chances of winning both the T20 and ODI match-ups over the coming weeks.
In this they will be boosted by the return of their mercurial former captain Shahid Afridi. The man known as ‘Boom Boom’ might have seen a decline in his batting over recent years, but his seemingly-innocuous leg spin bowling seems to become more lethal the longer his career has gone on. It is six months since he last played for Pakistan and his domestic form has not been that good, but he has always been a player for the big occasion and his record in South Africa is excellent.
The quicker bowling does still remain an issue for them and they will hope that veteran seamer Umar Gul has recovered from the niggling injury which kept him out of the final Test match. His experience and guile were much missed in that game and will be even more important to the Pakistanis in the shorter format as the rest of their pace attack lacks experience.
Pakistan’s batting will depend heavily upon T20 captain Mohammed Hafeez and their find of last year’s T20 World Cup Nazir Jamshed. Hafeez is not known as ‘The Professor’ for nothing and seems to have found a way of anchoring an innings in the short form of the game that has eluded every other opening batsman in this format. Jamshed, on the other hand, has an excellent eye for the ball and, when on top form, exquisite timing. A great addition to your sports picks in this match would be to back him to be Pakistan’s leading scorer in Friday’s game at 7/2 (Ladbrokes)
South Africa will be looking to hit back after losing their last home one day series, against New Zealand in January. Although they can point to the loss of key players to injury and suspension in that series, their opponents were not at full strength either and it is fair to say that over the past 12 months or so the Proteas have become rather unpredictable.
Faf du Plessis takes over from AB de Villiers as T20 captain, although the wicketkeeper/batsman keeps his place in the squad and the captaincy of the ODI side. Jacques Kallis is missing from both squads, although this is more due to the South Africans trying to manage the allrounder’s workload than the training ground injury which caused him to miss the last Test.
One player to watch out for on Friday is opening batsman-cum-wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock. He’s an exciting player who did well against New Zealand and who, once he gets going, scores heavily. Ladbrokes have him at a generous 5/1 to top score for South Africa on Friday, which will look even more generous if the Pakistani opening attack remains depleted by injury.
One blow for the Proteas will be the absence of Morne Morkel from the T20 matches. Unpredictable in the Test arena, he has been their most reliable bowler in the shorter version and with Dale Steyn (who is nowhere near as effective in one day games anyway) also rested, much will depend upon the likes of Ryan McLaren and Lonwabo Tsotsobe, whilst there will be another chance to see the exciting Kyle Abbott, who picked up nine wickets on his Test debut at the weekend.
It promises to be an enthralling series. My pick would be for the T20 series to be tied 1-1 (current best betting odds 6/5 with William Hill), but with South Africa to win the five match ODI contest 4-1.