Pakistan are searching for a maiden Test series win on South African soil with their previous five tours of the country yielding only two wins out of a possible 12.
With the odds stacked against the tourists, we take a look at the key talking points ahead of the series opener at Centurion.
BOTH SIDES REELING UNDER INJURIES
South Africa were handed an early setback prior to the start of the series with star seamer Vernon Philander being ruled out of the Boxing Day clash with a fractured finger.
With Lungi Ngidi too sidelined until February with an injury, South Africa’s pace reserves have been severely depleted. The hosts are not the only side to be crippled by injuries to key seamers with Pakistan too receiving a setback with regards to Mohammad Abbas.
The prolific seamer has failed to fully recover from his shoulder injury and will miss the Boxing Day Test along with leg-spinner Shadab Khan.
With Philander and Abbas out of the reckoning, both sides will line up at the Centurion without their most potent seamers and that is bound to take some sheen off the clash.
STEYN ON THE CUSP OF SOUTH AFRICA HISTORY
It has taken some time coming but the milestone of becoming South Africa’s highest wicket-taker in the Test format is one that is finally in Dale Steyn‘s sights.
The veteran pacer is currently level with Shaun Pollock on 421 Test scalps and barring any disaster, should break the record he has been chasing for more than three years now. Multiple long-term injuries in recent times have derailed Steyn’s bid severely with Pollock’s record now standing for a decade since he played his last Test for South Africa.
The 35-year-old pacer will fancy his chances on a Centurion track where he has an excellent record. In nine Tests at the venue, Steyn has picked up 56 scalps at an average of just over 17 including a five-wicket match haul in his side’s innings win over Pakistan in 2013.
GOLDEN CHANCE FOR PAKISTAN
Pakistan’s past track record in South Africa does not augur well for skipper Sarfraz Ahmed and the fact that they come into the series one the back of a ‘home’ loss to New Zealand does not help matters.
However, the visitors will know that they have an excellent shot at making history in South Africa with the hosts still coming to grips with the retirement of AB de Villiers. While De Villiers is no longer available for international selection, top-order batsman Hashim Amla has been struggling for runs.
Amla’s average over the past one year is less than 25 with the Proteas stalwart yet to register a Test ton in 2018. While Amla is woefully out of form, middle-order batsman Temba Bavuma is a doubt for the series opener with hamstring niggles.
When all these are factored in with Philander’s injury, it makes the case of a potential Pakistan upset even stronger. Their past record notwithstanding, Sarfraz and his men might not get a better chance of attaining their first Test victory in South Africa in over 10 years.
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