In white-ball cricket, Pakistan have held their own and could enjoy the conditions on offer
In the shadow of their Test record – 0-6 since 2010 and 1-10 since the turn of the century – Pakistan’s competitive white-ball performances in South Africa can often go by unnoticed. Under Misbah-ul-Haq‘s captaincy, they were the first subcontinent side to win a bilateral ODI series in the country in 2013-14, and either side of that lost two five-match series only in the deciding game.
Since 2010, Pakistan have a 6-7 win-loss ODI record in South Africa and have won three of six T20Is. As they have often come after the main, disheartening course of a Test series, though, those performances have felt consolatory in nature.
But as on that 2013-14 tour, white-ball cricket is the only game in town, and so Pakistan have arrived no doubt with less baggage than on previous visits. Not having to quarantine the way they did on their last tour, to New Zealand, will help lighten the mood as well: at Centurion’s Irene Country Club, where the team is staying in their biosecure bubble, they were able to enjoy some fishing, led by keen angler and batting coach Younis Khan.
Misbah is here as coach now, having experienced both the lows of Test losses and highs of white-ball wins in the country. He’s not just hoping to win both the ODI and T20I series, but also to kickstart Pakistan’s ODI Super League and push deep with their preparation for the T20 World Cup.
“I think especially with white-ball cricket, the pitches are very good, they’re true pitches, with good bounce and pace and for batters,” he said on Monday. “In white-ball cricket, it is easier to adjust to these conditions and you get good value for shots. Obviously Pakistan has also always had the luxury of good fast bowlers. That is the reason Pakistan has done well here.
“In 2013-14, when we were here, we had Junaid [Khan], [Mohammad] Irfan, then we had youngsters like Bilawal Bhatti and a couple of others. That is the reason why Pakistan like playing here. No doubt South Africa are very good, they know their conditions well. But I think these conditions help Pakistan as a whole, the batsmen especially. And obviously, there’s something psychological as well, when a team has done well here before, it helps moving forward as well to perform.”
Pakistan start with the first ODI on Friday in Centurion, and all seven games will be played there or at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. Their record at those two grounds isn’t great – they’ve lost eight out of 12 white-ball games there since the start of 2005 – but Misbah feels the true nature of surfaces there will help his batsmen. ‘If I look back when I used to play, these two wickets at Centurion and Wanderers, I really enjoyed batting on them, the bounce and the pace is very true,’ he said.
“No doubt South Africa are very good, they know their conditions well. But I think these conditions help Pakistan as a whole, the batsmen especially.”
“As a batsman you enjoy that, you get full value for your shots. Previously, in this team, some of the players have played here and performed – Imam [ul-Haq], Babar [Azam], Fakhar [Zaman] was here. These players love that pace and bounce, now [Mohammad] Rizwan is in form, a very good backfoot player. Those previous series and experiences definitely count, they play a role in your confidence as a player and team. When I was playing, suddenly, you just went to a ground where you’ve performed and your confidence level was always different.”
Pakistan have already had a couple of days of training, a bonus given how difficult it had been when they toured New Zealand and had to be in strict isolation with no training for 14 days. South Africa had their own issues this season with the mid-tour cancellation of England’s series earlier, and then Australia pulling out of a visit because of concerns over the pandemic in the country. Misbah was confident, however, of no mishaps this time.
“Both the boards are working very hard especially to keep this series going,” he said. “Players and all coaching staff are keen to just play and move forward. Obviously some measures been taken keeping in view previous series but we are hopeful that if we just look after protocols, especially the players while practising, and take responsibility, I’m pretty sure series will go on. Already we’ve been to England and New Zealand, completed series there and obviously we’d like to do the same here. We’ll do our best to complete this series.”