KARACHI: The Test series against South Africa is crucial for the hosts and their head coach Misbah-ul-Haq, who is under immense criticism after his charges’ below-par showing in England and New Zealand.
Misbah says that the players are ready for the South Africa challenge. “Overall we are ready for the home series to perform well and gain our confidence back,” Misbah told a virtual news conference on Sunday.
South Africa always have been a tough side for Pakistan to beat. Even in their two home series in the UAE held during the last decade the Green-shirts failed to defeat the Proteas despite slow and spin tracks and hot conditions. Both the series, held in the UAE in 2010-2011 and 2013-2014, ended in draw.
In 1997-1998, South Africa beat Pakistan 1-0 in a three-match Test series in Pakistan and in 2003-2004 home series Pakistan beat South Africa 1-0 in a two-match Test series. In 2007, Pakistan again tasted 0-1 defeat at the hands of Proteas at home, losing the Karachi Test by 160 runs.
But this time Misbah feels that there is an opportunity for Pakistan to make the record right and beat South Africa which he considers to be altogether a different team. “This is the right time to make a fightback and make the record right,” said Misbah, also a former Pakistan captain.
“The UAE Pak-South Africa series have been very competitive. At that time the Proteas had very very potent pace bowling besides having some solid spin options. They had some star characters in their batting line-up,” Misbah recalled.
“This is likely to be a different South African side. Their fast bowlers will utilise reverse swing and some of their batsmen also know how to play against spinners as they have the experience of playing in the IPL,” Misbah said.
“But the good thing for us is that recently matches have been held here at the domestic level and we have a clear idea. Yes, sometimes in Karachi the wicket starts supporting batsmen. We have played here against Sri Lanka and that is why we have a chance to win here,” Misbah said.
The first Test of the two-match series will begin here at the National Stadium from Tuesday (tomorrow).
Responding to a question, Misbah said that they have to prepare for playing under totally different conditions. “In New Zealand the conditions were totally different. Here we are to prepare for totally different conditions. Here we have to negotiate reverse swing, spin, and look for scoring options,” he said.
“South Africa also have played here before and have an idea about the pitches. You cannot prepare a totally different pitch in these conditions. We also know how to go forward but the important thing is to execute the plans,” Misbah said.
He made it clear that only batting coach Younis Khan is in charge of the batsmen. “I will clarify that only Younis is leading and looking after the batsmen. Yousuf, me and Younis coordinate as we have to prepare a data for players when they will go to High Performance Centre so that the coaches could have an idea about those players. We will be busy in Test series and the remaining players could be prepared for the T20 series,” Misbah said.
“Batsmen are not confused as only Younis is in operation in that zone,” he said. “We got Saqlain to work with spinners as we also have a few new inductees,” he said.
Responding to a question, he said that he is fully focussed on the series. “I don’t think about what will happen after the series. My complete focus is on this series. In our entire life we have played cricket under pressure. There is no security. I have to fulfil the responsibility. We can make our best effort and that is in our hands. Results are not in our control. Preparation and strategies are in our control,” Misbah said.
“Yes, recent performances have been disappointing and we have to improve,” the head coach was quick to add. About the reports that his role has been slashed in finalising the final XI, Misbah said: “These all are rumours. We will InshaAllah take decision with consensus.
“Players and management is a complete team. Team composition is always discussed and we will make a unit with consensus,” he asserted. He said that Babar Azam is a good cricketer and he will learn to lead the team gradually. “Babar will learn with the passage of time how to lead. I also started from zero as captain. Babar is an intelligent cricketer. We will try before the matches to ensure Babar goes onto the field with free mind. He knows how to handle the unit on the field and so gradually he will bring improvement in his captaincy,” Misbah said.
Pakistan held marathon practice sessions during the last four days here at the National Stadium.
Besides batting and bowling Pakistan also worked hard in fielding in order to overcome the fielding lapses which had hurt the Green-shirts on New Zealand tour, especially in the Christchurch Test where Pakistani fielders dropped nine catches.