TO be at Newlands in Cape Town is an experience of a lifetime and when a Test is on like the one starting today it is an occasion to savour even more. I only wish, though, that Pakistan after being beaten at Centurion by a humiliating margin of six wickets, make a fight of it here and stand up to the challenge of levelling the series before the third and final Test.
That is a tough ask from a touring side which has its batting line-up in tatters and which failed twice in the first Test to succumb to defeat within two and a half days.
The half centuries scored by Babar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq and Shan Masood each in the last Test does not impress me for the fact that all of them were patchy innings and not the kind to lift the morale of the dressing room.
Sarfraz and Co must lift their game to go level
Hopping and jumping and swaying away from the rising deliveries by the frontline batsmen is not the kind of display that could lift the spirits of the rest of the team and that is what I am worried about. Unless our batsmen show courage and skills against the pace of Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier, who alone bagged 11 wickets in the first Test at SuperSport Park, Pakistan’s prospects of making a comeback would remain bleak.
With Vernon Philander now fit, and he has always been a match-winner on this picturesque venue, it is possible that Theunis de Bruyn may make way for South Africa to field four frontline pacemen.
Pakistan also received good news that Mohammad Abbas has been declared fit and it is possible that Shaheen Shah Afridi will be rested although I thought he bowled quite well in the match.
The Pakistan batsmen lack in confidence and are short on skills in coping with pace and bounce of South African wickets and their record here itself is not to be proud of because they have never had a victory even once in their three previous outings.
Sarfraz Ahmed and his men, however, can rely once again on their bowlers for the rescue act but for how long, that is the question.
Dissent in the dressing room following Mickey Arthur’s outburst at the Pakistani batsmen does not help either. Batting coach Grant Flower admitted the other day that the dressing room atmosphere is not very cordial after the defeat in Centurion and that does not come to me as a surprise. Losing teams do tend to disintegrate but I sincerely hope that Pakistan do better here in this match to have a lot happier relationship with the coaching staff.
No ground in the world, and I have been to most of them, has such an aura or such a breath-taking backdrop as Newlands, with the Table Mountain in the background visible from every corner of the city is the bonus that you get while covering a Test here, no matter what the situation on the field.