ABU DHABI // The busiest season of international cricket in the history of the UAE begins in Sharjah today as South Africa take on a Pakistan “A” side in a three-day practice match. Tomorrow, Pakistan will meet the UAE in a two-day practice match at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi, both games leading to the first Test in the capital next Monday.
South Africa, the world’s top Test side, will be gearing up for their first Test since March and beginning life under a new Test coach, Russell Domingo, who replaced Gary Kirsten earlier this year.
Kirsten played an influential role in South Africa’s rise to the top of the rankings, though Domingo will at least be familiar to the squad: he was already their T20 coach and assistant to Kirsten in the longer formats.
Other than that, little about the side needs introduction.
They may not have played a Test in a while, but there is an incredibly settled feel about the side, a kind that does not seem affected even by coaching changes.
They arrived in the UAE over the weekend and practised in Sharjah until yesterday, more to acclimatise to conditions and the heat than anything else.
“We had a good chat and emphasised the important elements that made this Test side so successful and how we want to try and continue to do well,” Domingo said.
Much of the focus will be on Pakistan over the coming days, on both their main and A side.
They announced a 12-man Test squad during the weekend for the series but will add three more names to it from the A side after the match.
Pakistan’s batting generally remains a concern, and South Africa went about exposing those worries ruthlessly when the sides met in South Africa earlier this year. The top order will be a specific point of focus.
Mohammad Hafeez has been dropped from the Test side, which means one opener will be picked from the A team to partner Khurram Manzoor.
That man could be Ahmed Shahzad, a one-day international regular but yet to play a Test.
“We will use a regular opener, there will be no makeshift arrangements and I am sure that we will find another opener from the three-day match,” said their captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, before leaving for the UAE yesterday.
“Our pace attack against their opening batters will be important to set up the series for us,” Domingo said.
“Hafeez’s form has been a bit of a concern for them for a period of time.
“But he is a quality bowler and a quality batsmen and we are not displeased that he is unlikely to play a part.”
Spin is expected to play a big role throughout the tour and South Africa will get an early chance to feel their way on the kind of surfaces they are likely to encounter.
Also, to a lesser degree, the bowlers they will see. Yasir Shah, a prominent leg-spinner, and Usman Qadir – son of leg-spin legend Abdul – are both in the Pakistan A line-up.