SACricketmag.com looks at the five key battles between South Africa and Pakistan for their World Cup pool match in Auckland on Saturday.
Quinton de Kock v Wahab Riaz
De Kock’s shaky World Cup campaign has been well documented but, according to Hashim Amla, the Proteas are not about to bail on him – nor push him down the order. He will be one of the first to admit a return to the relative basics must occur, before flash and flair can be pursued again. The young left-hander scored some big runs against Pakistan in 2013 and, although the opposition attack was substantially stronger, the conditions in the Gulf were significantly tamer than those on offer in Australasia. Riaz, meanwhile, has spearheaded an attack depleted by the absence of Junaid Khan, Mohammad Hafeez and Saeed Ajmal, very well in Australia and New Zealand – and will look forward to an Eden Park pitch that afforded fellow left-arm seamers Mitchell Starc and Trent Boult a six- and five-for respectively a week ago.
Rilee Rossouw v Sohail Khan
Rossouw has quickly shrugged off the five ducks endured through the first 10 innings of his ODI career to make himself, pretty much, undroppable. He has yet to face a team from the sub-continent, though, and Saturday will bring a fresh challenge against opposition eager to exploit the unknown quality. Khan will be at the fore of this, having strutted his formidable stuff against reigning World Cup champions India with a telling five-for earlier in the tournament – and now afforded the opportunity to undo one of the favourites. With Mohammad Irfan somewhat of a fitness doubt, Sohail’s role with the newer ball – and toward the death – will become even more important.
AB de Villiers v Misbah-ul-Haq
Misbah is still waiting for a maiden century 159 ODIs into his career, while de Villiers has already struck 20 in 183. A hefty gap, indeed, exists between their batting styles and statistics – and their approaches to captaincy are also vastly different. The Pakistani is largely authoritarian, and arguably has to be among a squad lined with inexperience and the odd maverick. The South African, however, is reasonably democratic – and draws from a brains trust that includes the Test and Twenty20 International skippers. Misbah, for all his insistence that Pakistan be more attacking, will have to lead by example – and de Villiers will soon have to negate the potential bogeys that come with getting closer to the knockout stage of the tournament.
Imran Tahir v Shahid Afridi
Russell Domingo has acknowledged Pakistan’s ‘predictable unpredictability’ and, really, the reference is very much epitomised by Afridi. The leg-spinning all-rounder has blown hot and cold, on and off the field, throughout a lengthy international career – and is in the middle of a rather lean spell with bat and ball. Tahir played in each and every ODI of South Africa’s seven-match series against Pakistan in 2013 – and garnered a dozen wickets. Saturday will bring another chance for him to pull one over his country of birth. He, too, might be privy to the services of a spin twin – if South Africa decide to deploy Aaron Phangiso on a drop-in pitch that has been good to spin bowlers of late.
Kyle Abbott v Ahmed Shehzad
The veritable go-to guy of the South African attack, Abbott has developed a superb knack for removing opposition kingpins at crucial junctures – and Saturday’s battle against Shehzad will demand nothing less. Recently asked who would be the breakthrough player of the World Cup, Afridi unequivocally replied: ‘Shehzad. He is very aggressive, very positive. He can show the world he is someone.’ That chance, to witness to the world his bountiful talent, is here. The young right-hander’s ODI average against South Africa is some seven runs more than his career aggregate – and November 2013’s dominant century against a Proteas attack fronted by Dale Steyn’s six-for is testament to his talent against big-gun opposition.