Pakistan suffered another Test defeat in South Africa with the home team winning the second Test in Cape Town by nine wickets and taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series. Pakistan’s poor performance on the tour has been down to their batting that has failed to reach 300 in four innings across two Tests.
Kevin Pietersen, the former England captain, shared sympathies with Pakistan batsmen for coming to South Africa, a difficult place for tourists, without ample preparation. Pakistan had only one warm-up game, a three day-match against CSA Invitation XI in Benoni, which they won by six wickets.
Pietersen believes lack of experience of South African conditions has been the major reason behind Pakistan batsmen’s inability to put up fighting totals.
“I sympathise with Pakistan batsmen. They haven’t had time to come to South Africa. They played one warm-up game in Benoni. What good is that? That is like playing in Sharjah where it does not get above the knee-roll,” Pietersen said in a batting masterclass on Super Sport.
“So, these guys haven’t had the opportunity to do it. It is like us going to the subcontinent. You think we, the England team, South Africa team or Australia team, would be able to go to Sri Lanka or India and perform after just arriving off an airplane? It’s completely different and alien to these guys.”
Pakistan’s batting woes in South Africa are well-known, but it hit a new low in Cape Town when they were bundled out for 177 in the second innings. It was the first time in their Test history that they failed to cross 200 in four consecutive innings as they were also bowled out for sub-200 totals in the two innings in Centurion and the last innings in Abu Dhabi.
Thirteen out of 16 players in the Pakistan squad didn’t have experience of playing in South Africa before the series started and the captain Sarfraz Ahmed also said having a couple of warm-up matches would have been beneficial.
“I think if we played two or three practice matches prior to the series it would have been helpful for us. If you look back, in 2016, we played two practice matches against Somerset and Surrey, and our position was different. But we played only one match here, and we couldn't really acclimatize,” said Sarfraz after the second Test.
Pakistan played two practice matches on each of the last two tours to England and managed to draw both Test series – 2-2 in 2016 under Misbah-ul-Haq’s captaincy and 1-1 in 2018 under Sarfraz.
There was 18 days gap between Pakistan’s last Test against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi and the first Test against South Africa in Centurion, but the gap was used to have only one side match.
Pietersen was impressed by South Africa opener Aiden Markram after he scored a fluent 78 in the first innings in Cape Town, and praised his strategy and technique to counter Pakistan’s bowlers, Mohammad Abbas in particular.
Knowing that Abbas does not have much pace or a threatening bouncer, Markram batted out of his crease to minimize the chances of getting LBW or bowled.
“Markram is a smart and clever cricketer. He was very clever in his procedure, about what he was going to do Abbas. Did they [Pakistan batsmen] do to Philander? Don’t think they did.”
“As soon as Abbas started to penetrate on that line, on that length, he made a conscious effort to say you know what I am going to get outside of my crease. I think he could have got outside of his crease a lot more, but at least he made that change. That’s a tick. He is a thinking cricketer.”
Abbas has been a very economical bowler throughout his career, and last year he conceded at an economy of only 2.27 in Tests, but Markram looked unperturbed against him scoring 29 runs off 26 balls with six boundaries.
KP however also said that to be considered among great batsmen Markram will have to adapt to the foreign conditions and score runs in the subcontinent.
The South African opener has had a rollicking start to his career producing 1130 runs at 45.20 with four centuries. He was also the leading run-getter in the home series against Australia last year however his numbers in Sri Lanka were paltry as he scored only 40 runs in four innings.
“He played really good but can he do it all the way around the world? That separates good from the great. You have to be able to adapt. What these guys are not doing at the moment, the Pakistan team, in particular, they have not been able to adapt to these conditions.”
“But then can Markram go to India, Dubai or Sharjah and perform there? Do they have enough time to prepare? That’s the big issue at the moment in world cricket. T10, T20, all these leagues, can these guys have enough time to prepare?”
To have this answer, Pietersen will need to wait until October when South Africa tour India to play their first series of the World Test Championship.