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Proteas pick the seam for Pakistan

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Kagiso Rabada will be a crucial weapon for the Proteas in Pakistan in conditions that are likely to suit fast bowling.

There are nine seam bowlers in the 21-man South African Test squad for the two match series in Pakistan later this month. Picture: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – There are nine seam bowlers in the 21-man South African Test squad for the two match series in Pakistan later this month.

There are also three spinners, and Kyle Verrynne offers back up in case anything happens to Quinton de Kock. But the outstanding figure – the nine seamers. That number is a sign of the times.

The Covid-19 pandemic means teams are under quarantine, living and training, in bio-secure environments. There are strict protocols regarding who and how many people can go in or come out of the ‘bubble’. It means teams have to be flexible.

There’s been no domestic cricket in South Africa for the last three weeks. It makes it very difficult to pick a seam bowler whose ‘workloads’ are up to the requisite standards for Test match play. Bowlers are picked and within the Proteas team, bio-secure environments have to increase those ‘workloads’ – basically a set number of overs per day, while staying in the field in between, before they can be considered for selection to a start a match.

The circumstances are unique. But, it explains in part, why Ottniel Baartman and Daryn Dupavillon were included in the Proteas squad on Friday for the Tests in Pakistan. And why, the squad is so large, for just two games. South Africa, should anything happen to any of the seamers, will not be able to simply fly a bowler or two to Pakistan. They will have to work with what they have.

The Proteas team will have their work cut out for themselves keeping their bowlers from breaking down while on tour. Picture: Phando Jikelo, African News Agency (ANA)

It’s worrying, as Mickey Arthur , Sri Lanka’s coach, pointed out. His side suffered grave misfortune in the first Test when they lost three players to muscular injuries. They couldn’t call in replacements. It pushed Arthur, who sits on the ICC cricket committee, to state he’d be calling on the ICC to assess substitution rules.

Currently only players who are concussed, or who contract COVID-19 virus during a match may be substituted.

For now it’s extended squads and then hoping that nothing happens to the players once the game starts.

South Africa is heading for the unknown in many respects when the team embarks on the short tour to Pakistan next week. The Proteas last played in that country in 2007 – Arthur was still South Africa’s coach and Mark Boucher was wicket-keeper – winning that two-match series 1-0 on the back of Jacques Kallis’ three hundreds in four innings.

There is some recent history for the Proteas to assess at the two venues which will be used for this series. Both Rawalpindi and Karachi, have hosted Test matches in the last 15 months, although one in Rawalpindi was halted continuously by rain, meaning Pakistan and Sri Lanka managed just one innings each.

All those matches were dominated by quick bowlers, something that will suit the Proteas with Kagiso Rabada set to return. It will be noted by the team’s analysts that Yasir Shah picked up four wickets in Bangladesh’s second innings in the Test played in Rawalpindi in early February last year. It is therefore likely Keshav Maharaj may do more bowling than he did in the series against Sri Lanka.

What does stand out, is that in those four Tests played at those venues between December 2019 and February 2020, eight centuries were scored. South Africa’s batsmen, with the exception of Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis against Sri Lanka, didn’t take advantage of the starts they had. Failure to do that in Pakistan will be detrimental to their chances of winning there.

It can’t only be that experienced pair that the Proteas rely on for runs. This tour is an important one for Aiden Markram and Temba Bavuma, who both made half-centuries in the first Test against Sri Lanka, but gave their wickets away – in different circumstances – when well set.

Pakistan may have taken a battering in New Zealand, but that will only make them keener to bounce back strongly at home. They will be hoping to have skipper Babar Azam back after he missed the New Zealand series with a thumb injury.

Pakistan will be hoping to have skipper Babar Azam back in the line-up for the South African tour. Picture: Action Images via Reuters

It will be a unique tour. On top of the restrictions resulting from Covid19, there is also the security element to consider – what many have said is a pandemic bubble on top of a security bubble.

Pakistan has also had significant challenges in dealing with the pandemic. It’s lucrative Super League T20 matches, which normally take place around the country, will be played at just two venues.

It’s very much a unique tour that will test the mental wherewithal of the players, along with their skill in conditions, none of them – bar Du Plessis, who played T20 cricket in Pakistan recently – will be familiar with.

SA Test squad:

Quinton de Kock (capt), Temba Bavuma, Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Kagiso Rabada, Dwaine Pretorius, Keshav Maharaj, Lungi Ngidi, Rassie van der Dussen, Anrich Nortje, Wiaan Mulder, Lutho Sipamla, Beuran Hendricks, Kyle Verreynne, Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen, Tabraiz Shamsi, George Linde, Daryn Dupavillon, Ottniel Baartman.

South Africa tour to Pakistan schedule

26-30 January: 1st Test, Karachi

4-8 February: 2nd Test, Rawalpindi

11 February: 1st T20I, Lahore

13 February: 2nd T20I, Lahore

14 February: 3rd T20I, Lahore