The Proteas have more than a week together before the first Test, providing the coaching staff and the players an opportunity to build bonds, and work on some skillsets.
JOHANNESBURG – While the usual luxuries on overseas trips aren’t available to them in Pakistan, for the Proteas the opportunity to train extensively as a group may prove hugely beneficial, not just for the series against Babar Azam’s side, but in the long term as well.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on gatherings last year, Mark Boucher wasn’t able to hold an extensive training camp, like he’d planned at the end of last season.
In Karachi however, the Proteas have more than a week together before the first Test, providing – albeit on a slightly smaller scale and with movement heavily restricted – the coaching staff and the players an opportunity to build bonds, and work on some of the skillsets Boucher wanted to do last year.
They’re the kind of small ‘wins’ the players need to take on what is a challenging trip, but one which Quinton de Kock admitted yesterday had caught the players by surprise in terms of the standard of security with which they’ve been provided.
The Proteas captain admitted that security was all the talk on the hastily arranged charter flight from Johannesburg to Karachi, last Friday. “Guys were asking ‘what about this’ and what about that,’ … but when we arrived here we saw the amount of security they had and the guys are feeling much more comfortable.
“We feel safe, and that has allowed us to just be worried about cricket.”
The Proteas have had a few lengthy training sessions since arriving in Karachi. With the pandemic restrictions in that country limiting movement on top of the security initiatives that are in place, De Kock admitted the players had not gotten to see much of the city. Nor will they. “But the rooms look quite nice,” he said of their hotel accommodation, which is close to the Karachi Gymkhana, where they are practising this week.
It allows this young Proteas team the opportunity to do some skills training and tactical work that will have benefits beyond this current tour. “It’s definitely been a big help that the Pakistan Cricket Board has allowed us to come here early to start preparations,” said De Kock.
As for what to expect from conditions and the home team – which has nine uncapped players in their extended squad – De Kock was none the wiser. “We’re relying on some of our coaching staff, who’ve been here before,” he said, referencing Boucher and bowling coach Charl Langeveldt, who toured there in 2007.
One hint, De Kock explained, for the players about the kind of conditions they may face, could be sourced from the make up of the Pakistan squad, which contained three frontline spinners; left-arm spinner, Nauman Ali , off-spinner Sajid Khan and leg-spinner Yasir Shah along with all-rounder Mohammad Nawaz who also bowls left-arm spin. “That selection says a lot about where they want to go,” De Kock remarked.
“It will be a big challenge that we will have to deal with when we get out there.”
In criticising the selection of the Pakistan squad, one of its former captains, Inzamam ul-Haq, said it was illustrative of a knee-jerk reaction from the selectors. “No-one can say that this team can beat any good side,” said Inzamam. “You can prepare big turners against South Africa to win matches but you can’t groom players for future series and that is the most depressing part of this selection.”
De Kock said he wasn’t reading too much into what took place in New Zealand where Pakistan lost both Test matches in a short series. “I know from experience that it can be difficult to bat in New Zealand. But this team will be much better-suited to playing in its own conditions.”
“With Babar (Azam) back, they will be lifted. They will be very competitive in their own conditions.”
Babar, named Pakistan captain last year, missed all the matches in New Zealand because of a broken thumb, but started batting again last week and declared himself fit for the series against the Proteas.
The South Africans will continue with preparations this week, which will include a two-day intersquad game starting on Thursday.
The first Test will be played at the National Stadium in Karachi starting on January 26.