Proteas, Pakistan set for spin battle in first Test

Rival captains Misbah-ul-Haq and Graeme Smith are gearing up for a spin battle in the first Test starting on Friday, as Pakistan seek their first series win in four years.

Pakistan’s last Test series win was against the West Indies at home in 2006 and since then they have lost six and drawn the remaining three, but newly inducted captain Misbah hopes his team makes a fresh start at Test cricket’s newest venue.

“We are focusing only on cricket and will play to our strength, which is spin. We hope it’s a new beginning at a new Test venue,” said Misbah of the Dubai Stadium, which becomes Test cricket’s 101st venue.

Misbah, who missed Pakistan’s last seven Tests after being left out of the team, was drafted in as captain after Test skipper Salman Butt was suspended along with bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir last month.

The three players were suspended after British newspaper News of the World claimed several Pakistani players obeyed orders from book-makers during Lord’s Test against England in August.

Misbah hinted at the inclusion of off-spinner Saeed Ajmal and left-arm slow bowler Abdul Rehman in the side, who will also get assistance from opener Mohammad Hafeez, who bowls off-spin.

“We have this option to include two spinners, and looking at the nature of the pitch, I think spinners will play a key role in the Test,” said Misbah, who will become Pakistan’s fourth Test captain this year.

Wicket-keeper Adnan Akmal, brother of Kamran Akmal—not selected for the tour due to fitness problems—will make his debut after the only keeper of the tour, Zulqarnain Haider fled to London after receiving death threats.

High on confidence
South Africa, high on confidence after winning both of the preceding Twenty20 matches and five-match one-day series 3-2, were also pondering at the option of playing two spinners.

“There is definitely an option,” said Smith of playing off-spinner Johan Botha and left-armer Paul Harris. “We have done that in the Caribbean [in June this year] which proved successful for us.”

Smith stressed South Africa needed to win the two-Test series and then against world number one Test team India at home.

“Our focus has shifted to five big Tests ahead of us,” said Smith, whose team hosts India for three Tests next month.
“We want to be as successful as possible in that format in which we have been successful in the last three years.”

Smith agreed the confidence level was high in South African camp.

“I think the players have gained confidence through the one-day win, but its going to be a new start on a venue which is used for the first time in Test cricket,” said Smith, who believes Dubai’s heat will be a big Test for his players.

The second Test starts in Abu Dhabi from November 20. The series was shifted to United Arab Emirates over security fears in Pakistan.—AFP

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