Rock-steady S Africa face unpredictable Pakistan
Abu Dhabi: World number one South Africa will hold most of the aces against an erratic and unpredictable Pakistan when the teams open a two-Test series from Monday.
Graeme Smith`s Proteas have dominated the five-day format and are unbeaten in a Test series since losing to Sri Lanka in 2006.
Their record against sub-continent teams is particularly impressive as they have lost only four out of their last 20 Tests against such opposition and just once in an away series.
South Africa have beaten Pakistan in 11 of their 21 Tests, losing only three and drawing the remaining seven.
Pakistan`s only series win came way back in 2003 on home ground.
Smith`s men routed Pakistan 3-0 when the two teams met in South Africa earlier this year, exposing their rivals` fragile batting through pacemen Dale Steyn (20 wickets) and Vernon Philander (15).
Even the dusty and dry pitches of the United Arab Emirates, where Pakistan have been forced to play their home matches since the 2009 terror attack on a Sri Lankan team bus, hold no fears for the South Africans.
They drew a two-Test series in the UAE in 2010 with Jacques Kallis hitting successive hundreds, AB de Villiers notching South Africa`s then highest score of 278 not out and Smith and Hashim Amla also scoring centuries.
They blunted Saeed Ajmal so well that Pakistan were forced to leave out the ace spinner after he got only three wickets in the first Test in Dubai.
Smith, who returns to international cricket following an ankle injury in March, believes his side are ready for all possibilities.
"We expect the wickets to spin, we expect the worst in that regard, and know that how we handle Ajmal could be the key," said Smith.
Pakistan have also named left-arm spinners Abdur Rehman and Zulfiqar Babar, who may make his Test debut at 34, if they play three spinners.
Pakistan have only won one of their last eight Tests since Dav Whatmore took over as coach last year and have slipped to sixth in the
Test rankings after an embarrassing defeat against Zimbabwe last month.
But Misbah-ul Haq`s men can take solace from their 3-0 rout of then world number one England in the UAE last year.
If Pakistan wants to repeat that triumph their sloppy batting needs a huge improvement and senior players like Misbah and Younis Khan must continue taking the responsibility.
Pakistan were shot out for their lowest Test score of 49 at Johannesburg in February this year and failed to dominate a novice Zimbabwe attack.
Pakistan`s pre-series build up was also chaotic as they delayed announcing their squad and then named only 12 players, picking the remaining three from the tour match against South Africa which ended on Thursday.
Their top-order could be easy prey for the South African pacemen -- out of three openers, only Khurram Manzoor has played
Tests (nine), while Ahmed Shehzad and Shan Masood have yet to play the longer version of the game.
South Africa (from): Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Imran Tahir, Jacques Kallis, Rory Kleinveldt, Morne Morkel, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Thami Tsolekile.
Pakistan (from): Khurram Manzoor, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Umar Amin, Adnan Akmal, Saeed Ajmal, Zulfiqar Babar, Abdur Rehman, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan, Rahat Ali, Asad Shafiq, Shan Masood, Ahmed Shehzad
Umpires: Rod Tucker (AUS) and Paul Reiffel (AUS)
Third Umpire: Ian Gould (ENG)
Match referee: David Boon (AUS)