Pakistan batting collapsed once again in the Boxing Day Test against South Africa in Centurion which eventually cost them the match. As both teams prepare to face each other in the Newlands at Cape Town, here is how each Pakistan batsman fared and what can they do to perform better in the next Test.
Fakhar Zaman did well on his Test debut against Australia in the UAE but South Africa is a different ball game. He likes to free his arms and flay the ball through the off-side but there were not a lot of balls dished out in that region for him. Oppositions are most likely to hold a tighter line just on around off-stump and make him play with a vertical bat. Fakhar batted well in the second innings but flicked a straight ball into the hands of the deep fine leg fielder.
Imam-ul-Haq didn’t score a lot of runs against New Zealand in the UAE and ended up in an awkward position in his first innings dismissal. Interestingly, his front leg hadn’t gone far too across but the in-swinger from Rabada caused his head to fall well over to the off-side. A better head position from Imam would have ensured an easy clip through mid-wicket. He was given a respite after being dropped by Amla off Steyn’s bowling but his balance looked better in the second innings. The young batsman showed real grit and determination to get to his half-century.
Imam's dismissal in the first innings ©Sony LIV
Shan Masood’s Test career has been like a rollercoaster ride. After making his debut against South Africa in 2013, he has been in and out of the side. But after putting up solid performances for the Pakistan A side recently, he has got back into the side. There have been few adjustments in his technique, particularly with his trigger movements.
Previously, there was a simple ‘forward press’ from him, but now, he seems to have developed a back foot trigger which appears to give him more time against the short ball.
Shan Masood in the UAE in 2017 vs Shan Masood in Cenrurion 2018 ©Sony LIV
Masood looked in a lot of control when taking on the short ball as he was opening up and swivelling perfectly to hit the ball where he wanted to.
Both his feet ended up being inside the popping crease against the real pace of Duanne Olivier and it’ll be interesting to see how he cops Vernon Philander, who operates on a fuller length.
Pakistan’s best batsman didn’t have a lot of success in the last year but he saw through a tough spell of fast bowling in the first innings at Centurion. Azhar took few blows to his body against Olivier, who was consistently hitting those areas on the wicket where the ball was doing all sorts of tricks.
Most batsmen from sub-continent look to get on top of the bounce and defend the ball when it is short of a good length. But when there is extra bounce, that instinct of playing every ball can get you in trouble as it becomes extremely hard to defend and you end up being in awkward positions.
Azhar Ali gets in a tangle against Olivier ©Sony LIV
Azhar has to be really sharp in picking up the length and have a clear plan whether he wants to either drop his hands and let the ball go or open up and take on the short ball.
South Africa have kept things simple against Asad Shafiq. Shafiq’s strength lies in playing square of the wicket through the off-side. Keeping this in mind, they have bowled a fraction straighter at him which has caused him problems in both innings. He has to align himself well when the ball is nipped back into him.
His dismissal in the second innings also highlights how pressure can affect you as a batsman. Firstly, he survived a leg-before shout against Dale Steyn as the ball-tracking technology showed the ball was heading down the leg side to miss the stumps. Next ball was an away-swinger which could be played square of the wicket through the off-side but his back foot remained static as he threw his hands at the ball and the edge was found.
Pakistan will hope Asad Shafiq repeats his Newlands heroics being one of the senior most players in this side.
Babar Azam played superbly in the first innings and took on the challenge when the opposition had Pakistan on the ropes. At one stage, Pakistan were struggling at 111-8 but his 67-run partnership with Hasan Ali brought his side back into the contest.
Babar struck ten boundaries off Dale Steyn and you could see him playing with such clarity of mind. The thought process of a lot of batsmen gets affected against quality bowlers which in turn affects their ability to react to the ball coming at them.
Babar Azam squares up against Rabada ©Sony LIV
Babar’s game looks in perfect order except for a slight glitch which was found out in both the dismissals of the first Test. When the ball swings away from him at a fuller length, he tends to open up which leads to the bat cutting across the ball and take the outside edge of the bat.
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed has been under a lot of pressure as his side hasn’t been able to continue their dominance in the UAE – a venue where they were undefeated in the Misbah era. Moreover, his individual performances have been below par which reportedly led to a spat between Mickey Arthur and other senior players after Pakistan’s batting collapse at Centurion.
Sarfraz has to be wary of the conditions where he is playing. He crouches too low as the ball is about to be delivered which may land him in problem against a hard back-of-a-length ball. The other thing, which Grant Flower spoke about in a recent interview to Cricinfo, is the fact that Sarfraz has to work on his ability to leave the ball well outside off-stump.
In a nutshell, Pakistan batsmen have to show that they can adapt technically and mentally to put the opposition under pressure and make a comeback in the series.