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South Africa wary of strengthened Pakistan

Try as he might, Graeme Smith will find it difficult to convince record-keepers that he has just led his side to Test wins in Kolkata and Lahore. For a start, the victories actually came at Newlands at Cape Town and Supersport Park at Centurion, not Eden Gardens or Gaddafi Stadium.

Smith's liberal approach to geography was actually a broad allusion to the surfaces his men happened upon at each venue: dry, flat, offering more turn the older they got, which is what you might expect at either subcontinental venue. But having registered such impressive wins in alien conditions, they might be just a touch surprised at coming across a St George's Park pitch that its curator says will provide bowlers with pace and bounce. It'll be a good surprised, though, like reuniting with a pleasant old acquaintance.

AD Carter, the groundsman at Port Elizabeth, where the second Test between South Africa and Pakistan gets underway from tomorrow, told Mag4you.com that the surface is as different from traditional PE low, slow turners as possible. "It reminds me of the one we had for the match between the Warriors and the Eagles earlier this month," he said. "That one had pace and bounce and we hope this one will be similar."

It was a pleasant bonus for South Africa that their rookie spinner, Paul Harris, took more wickets than both Anil Kumble and Danish Kaneria on pitches that were supposed to be tailor-made for them. But you'd think on a surface supporting fast bowlers, South Africa would back their trio of Makhaya Ntini, Andre Nel and Shaun Pollock against most others.

Generally, the hosts face few concerns, although AB de Villiers is causing a few nagging problems; he is an abnormally gifted sportsman, though a tally of three fifties in his last ten Tests and an average under 14 in his last four as opener is just plain abnormal. Hashim Amla was a problem before the last Test but he made good runs at a good time and Ashwell Prince's patch is currently so purple, his pop namesake, whose favourite colour it is, called to ask for it back.

About the only strife the middle order is currently facing stems from the stump mic's kiss 'n tell with Herschelle Gibbs during the first Test. Even that, though, is only vying for second place on the Global Race Issues chart, lagging behind a Bollywood queen's travails in the celebrity goldfish bowl of Big Brother.

But if ever a team was to admit to wariness over the state of the opposition, South Africa might contemplate doing it now. Pakistan fought for four days with virtually a two-man bowling attack at Centurion, one of whom had just come back from prolonged inaction and one of whom is suffering from a prolonged lack of threat.

Mohammad Asif will find his way back but Danish Kaneria began the new year in much the same vein as last. He didn't bowl badly, he didn't leak runs, he spun the ball yet he didn't really look like running through anything more threatening than margarine. Kamran Abbasi sums up the dilemma well here but it might help to have genuine strike bowlers operating at the other end.

That is only one of the many reasons why the possible returns of Umar Gul and Shoaib Akhtar will lift Pakistan so much. With Asif in tow, this is Pakistan's all-star pace attack, their current Harlem Globetrotters of pace bowling: there is pace, there is guile, there is bounce. In short, there is potentially everything in those three men you could hope for from a pace trio.

Also hoping to return will be Pakistan's own middle-order beard. The tourists' batting did sufficiently well and no more in the first Test. In fact, what they didn't do was exactly what Mohammad Yousuf had been doing all through 2006: converting (no pun intended). Like some cross-decade bash, sixties mixed seamlessly with thirties and forties but, heartlessly, no-one remembered to invite the centuries at Centurion.

Yousuf, who dumped fifties altogether last year as if it were a crime against fashion (he made only three, and one of those was a 97), will be expected to bring just that ability. The hosts, though, will hope that his poor record in this country and relative rustiness since December combine to dampen his contribution.

South Africa (probable) 1 AB de Villiers, 2 Graeme Smith (capt), 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Ashwell Prince, 6 Herschelle Gibbs, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Shaun Pollock, 9 Paul Harris, 10 Andre Nel, 11 Makhaya Ntini.

Pakistan (probable) 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Imran Farhat, 3 Yasir Hameed, 4 Younis Khan, 5 Mohammad Yousuf, 6 Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt), 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Shoaib Akhtar, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Danish Kaneria, 11 Mohammad Asif.



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