After the low of the Test series where they were thrashed 3-0, Pakistan made a gallant comeback in the 50-over leg but still found themselves short in the five-match series going down 3-2. They now turn their attention to the format they love, are the No.1 ranked side in the world and had an incredible run in 2018 — the Twenty20 Internationals.
Pakistan won an astounding 17 out of 19 T20Is they played in 2018 and come into the three-match 20-over series on a hot nine-match winning streak. What will excite them more is the staging area for the first game. The Newlands in Cape Town has been a happy hunting ground for them and for some reason a miserable venue for hosts South Africa. Pakistan have won three out of the three T20Is they have played at Newlands. Meanwhile their opponents have won just three of the 17 games they have played at the venue.
But what is it that makes Pakistan such a potent attack in the shortest format of the game? The core group has mostly remained same across formats, but it is the balance of the side that has swung things in favour of the visitors in the recent past. In Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam they have an explosive opening combination and with that follows the experienced heads of Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez. While regular captain Sarfraz Ahmed has been banned for four games, his replacement Mohammad Rizwan has been hugely successful on the A circuit. The all-rounders Faheem Ashraf and Imad Wasim have been in excellent nick as well.
If the Pakistan batsmen are good the bowlers are a cut above. Shaheen Shah Afridi has been the find of the tour with the 20-year-old earning everyone’s praise with his subtle movement and swing. Hasan Ali and Mohammad Amir are likely to lead the pace attack and with Shadab Khan leading the spin department Pakistan boast of a well-rounded attack.
Pakistan haven’t lost a bilateral T20I series since January 2016 and have won a total of 11 T20I series on the bounce since. They are certainly on a roll and will be keen to continue that run come Cape Town. South Africa, on the other hand, having won the Test and ODI series will be wanting to keep the momentum going into the T20Is as well. They have rested some of their key players in Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn but still have a more than potent unit to defeat any side.
Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen and Reeza Hendricks all displayed solid form in the 50-over series and will be keen on continuing the run here too while Heinrich Klaasen and David Miller would want to make use of the chances having not performed up to the mark. The bowling unit will be led by Chris Morris and Andile Phehlukwayo while the newcomers pacer Lutho Sipamla and wicket-keeper batsman Gihahn Cloete might also get a chance at some stage.
Sipamla had impressed one and all by his efforts in the Mzansi Super League where he finished the third-highest wicket taker of the tournament and he will be keen on making a name for himself at the highest level as well. The surface at Newlands is expected to be sluggish like it was in the final ODI where Pakistan could only manage 240. The skies are expected to be largely clear though it might get cloudy during the latter half of the game.
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (c), Gihahn Cloete, Junior Dala, Quinton de Kock, Beuran Hendricks, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Chris Morris, Willem Mulder, Andile Phehlukwayo, Tabraiz Shamsi, Rassie van der Dussen, Lutho Sipamla.
Pakistan: Shoaib Malik (c), Asif Ali, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Hussain Talat, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Sahibzada Farhan, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Usman Khan, Mohammad Rizwan.
Published in Today’s Muslim, February 1st 2019.