Many a team has arrived in South Africa with historic visions of breaching the fortress, only to end up battered and bruised at the wrong end of a series defeat. Seven in a row have now tried and failed to better South Africa at home, which is a home winning streak as hot as any in the hosts’ history. Although captain Faf du Plessis will have to sit out the third Test, he has spoken of South Africa’s desire to maintain their intensity and complete a clean sweep despite this series already being won.
The end goal is the world No. 1 ranking, and while a 3-0 win won’t quite get them there, it will raise South Africa to second and add further context to the Tests against Sri Lanka in February, as well as England’s trip to the Caribbean as the teams behind India in the rankings jostle for position.
For Pakistan, the third Test offers one final shot at shoring up some of the problems that have haunted their tour before focus shifts with the change of format in the second half of their trip. Out-bowled by a South African pace group that is quickly becoming legendary, outlasted by batsmen who haven’t flinched despite receiving a battering of their own on two spicy tracks at Centurion and Newlands, Pakistan have multiple issues to confront.
Alas, those in the touring party who have been to the Wanderers before will not have any happy red-ball memories of the place, and the challenges confronting a brittle top order are unlikely to get any easier. Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed were all witnesses to Dale Steyn’s devastating 6 for 8 here in 2013, when Pakistan slipped to the nadir of 49 all out.
If injury battles have at times dimmed the fire in Steyn’s eyes in the interim, his return to full fitness lends an air of ominous foreboding to Pakistan’s trip to Johannesburg. Now, of course, South Africa also have the world No. 1 Test bowler to call on in Kagiso Rabada, while Vernon Philander will also be a menace at a ground at which he averages just 15.08. It won’t win them the series, but if Pakistan are able to rouse themselves and stand up to the challenge South Africa’s pace attack will once again present, such success would be a timely boon ahead of the ODIs.
South AfricaWWLLW (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
As a group, Pakistan’s batting has failed on this tour, but Shan Masood‘s individual performances have provided some light in the gloom. Tall and elegant, Masood’s soft hands and quick reading of South Africa’s lengths have helped him to survive and prosper, going from an accidental starter to Pakistan’s unlikely star. Back in his usual opening slot, the job won’t get any easier for Masood in Jo’burg, but if he is able to replicate his success Pakistan will have a much better chance of giving their bowling attack the cushion of a few more runs.
Zubayr Hamza will likely become the 100th Test cap for South Africa since readmission (though he could be the 101st if Pieter Malan slots in for Aiden Markram). Hamza’s ability to absorb pressure and score big – attributes which have been enhanced by the excellent work of his franchise coaches Ashwell Prince and Faiek Davids – has got him this far and he seems an ideal candidate for a middle order always on the look-out for grit. The pressure of a Test debut will be an entirely new feeling for Hamza, but he has an excellent opportunity to stake his claim.
With du Plessis suspended, and a couple of South Africa’s top order nursing some bruises of their own, there will be a few changes to the hosts’ line-up. There are two possible debutants in the squad in Malan and Hamza, though Malan will play only if Markram fails a fitness test on Thursday. Du Plessis insisted that his pace attack would be fresh and ready to go after an extra couple of days off due to the early finish in Cape Town, and conditions will decide whether South Africa stick with their seamers or adjust the balance with the addition of Keshav Maharaj’s left-arm spin.
South Africa: 1 Dean Elgar (capt), 2 Aiden Markram/Pieter Malan, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Theunis de Bruyn, 5 Temba Bavuma, 6 Zubayr Hamza, 7 Quinton de Kock (wk), 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Duanne Olivier/Keshav Maharaj
Pakistan are also likely to ring some changes, and allrounder Faheem Ashraf could get a look-in. If he is included, it may be for Fakhar Zaman, who was shunted down to No. 6 in the second innings of the Newlands Test and hasn’t enjoyed conditions. A fully fit Shadab Khan would also give Pakistan the option of playing a fifth bowler – something that was missing from Newlands. Pakistan may also look to rest Shaheen Shah Afridi, who looked a little tired after back-to-back Tests.
Pakistan: 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Shan Masood, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Asad Shafiq, 5 Babar Azam, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt/wk), 7 Faheem Ashraf, 8 Yasir Shah/Shadab Khan, 9 Mohammad Amir, 10 Mohammad Abbas, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi/Hasan Ali
Pitch and conditions
The conditions at the Wanderers made headlines for all the wrong reasons during India’s visit last year, and given the potential ramifications for another poor pitch rating, the curator may look to err on the side of caution. The tracks here during the Mzansi Super League were sometimes a little dry, and in the last first-class game played at the Wanderers, first-innings runs were important. At this time of year, afternoon thunderstorms are always a possibility.
Stats and trivia
Pakistan have never won a Test at the Wanderers, but did draw here in 1998 – though rain washing out the fourth day helped.
Pakistan’s 49 all out on their last trip is the lowest score in their Test history
Masood is the leading run-scorer on either side in this series, with 189 runs at 47.25
Philander picked up a career-best 6 for 21 at the last Test played at the Wanderers against Australia last year
“We also have a mission to win not just these three Test matches, but the next two we play against Sri Lanka as well.”
Head coach Ottis Gibson is a man on a mission as he looks to take South Africa to No. 1 in the Test rankings
“I think it’s a much better surface than the other two. Yes, this does have grass and a few cracks, but I think they will widen a lot later than Centurion and Cape Town”
Azhar Ali suggests the Wanderers will provide the best pitch of the series
Smith to miss two BPL matches to fix elbow injury
Steven Smith will miss Comilla Victorians’ next two matches in the BPL, after a previous elbow injury flared up in the last couple of days. He will fly back to Sydney for a check-up but is expected to be back in Bangladesh sometime next week.
“He is quite positive about returning, possibly during the Sylhet phase of the competition,” Victorians media manager Sohanuzzaman Khan told ESPNcricinfo. “He will undergo an MRI in Australia, which isn’t available in Bangladesh, and will inform us about it.”
Their next two matches in Dhaka are against Rajshahi Kings and Chittagong Vikings on January 11 and 13, while their Sylhet phase begins on January 15.
Smith, who led the Victorians to one win in the two outings, has so far made 16 and 0 in his two innings against Sylhet Sixers and Rangpur Riders. The former Australia captain’s participation in the BPL made news after the organisers had to change the drafting rules to accommodate him.
Meanwhile, Khulna Titans have replaced Ali Khan with Junaid Khan after the US fast bowler was ruled out due to a hamstring injury he suffered during his only match in the BPL.
Kerala pip Himachal in race to knockouts, Punjab, Bengal miss out
Kerala’s dash for the finish line
A stirring fourth-innings chase by Kerala handed them a victory against Himachal Pradesh and six points, vaulting the team into the Ranji Trophy 2018-19 quarter-finals. Kerala will join Vidarbha, Saurashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand in the quarter-finals.
The identity of the teams that eventually qualified depended largely on two games on the final day of the league phase: Kerala’s match against Himachal, and Punjab’s game against Bengal.
Himachal declared on their overnight 285 for 8, setting Kerala a target of 297 at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Stadium in Nadaun. Kerala responded brilliantly, getting to 299 for 5 in 67 overs. Vinoop Manoharan, who was promoted to open the innings, hit 96 off 143 to set the chase on track. There was a brief wobble when Manoharan and Mohammed Azharuddeen fell in quick succession, but an 88-run stand for the fifth wicket off 104 balls between captain Sachin Baby (92 off 134) and Sanju Samson (61* off 53) put Kerala on the brink of victory. Himachal had declared, having scored rapidly in their second innings, because they themselves were chasing victory to progress to the knockouts.
However, Kerala won the race, and now have 26 points to show, level with Gujarat and Baroda, but ahead on quotient. Gujarat edged out Baroda in turn due to a higher quotient, and thus booked their place in the knockouts.
An inconsequential draw
Either of Bengal or Punjab could have upset the equations if their match had ended in an outright result, but despite a valiant chase by Punjab, it produced a draw. Punjab had taken a stranglehold early in the match, replying to Bengal’s 187 with 447. Bengal, however, showed plenty of spunk in their 432 for 6 declared in the second innings. Abhimanyu Easwaran ended a superb season with 201 not-out, his first double-hundred, while captain Manoj Tiwary made 105 as Bengal ensured they would stave off defeat. Tiwary then gave Punjab 16 overs to chase 173. In a surprise move, Manpreet Gony was promoted to No. 3 and he smashed 58 off 28, but with Punjab 132 for 5 in 15 overs, the teams shook hands. It was Gony’s second half-century in the match, following a career-best 69 not-out in the first innings.
But while Bengal emerged with an honourable draw, what both teams needed going in was an outright win – and denied that, neither could finish in the top five of the combined A and B groups to qualify for the knockouts.
The Jharkhand heartbreak
Despite the entire first day being washed out at the Gandhi Memorial Science College Ground in Jammu, Jharkhand beat Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) by an innings and 48 runs. Saurabh Tiwary’s 134 underpinned their batting effort, while Shahbaz Nadeem led the way with the ball once again, taking 4 for 43 as J&K were bowled out for 120 on the final day. The win took Jharkhand to 40 points, just behind Uttar Pradesh, who went through with 41 points.
Jharkhand were badly hit by the previous round, when Tripura’s dawdle meant only 22 overs were bowled in an extended final session, stopping Jharkhand at 144 for 7 when set 153 to win. That left Jharkhand with only three points for a first-innings lead, when a win would have given them six points.
Punjab, too, will look back on this season as one of near-misses. In their first match, they replied to Andhra’s 423 with 414, missing out on a first-innings lead by just ten runs. Later on, Hyderabad made 317, and Punjab were bowled out for 303 in reply. They still had perhaps the most exciting chase of the season, finishing on 324 for 8 when set 338 to win, led by an inspired century from Shubman Gill. Then came another near-miss in the final league game. They were similarly affected in the Vijay Hazare Trophy in September-October 2018, having to share points with Goa after piling on 359 for 4 and reducing Goa to 46 for 2 in ten overs before rain arrived, a result that materially affected their chances of making the quarterfinals.
Australia-based Englishman Charlie Hemphrey signs Glamorgan deal
Glamorgan have signed Charlie Hemphrey, the English-born top-order batsman who currently plays for Queensland. Hemphrey, 29, has agreed a two-year contract with the Welsh county.
Hemphrey’s route to professional cricket was a circuitous one. After spending several years trying unsuccessfully to break into the county game, he moved to Brisbane and impressed enough in Grade cricket to be picked up by Queensland. He made his first-class debut in the Sheffield Shield in 2015 and has since averaged 33.02 with four hundreds.
Hemphrey will be registered as a local player with Glamorgan, but may have to switch to overseas status with Queensland, where he has another year on his contract. Although he has permanent residency in Australia, according to ECB regulations he cannot play as a non-overseas player in both countries.
His arrival will strengthen a Glamorgan squad that struggled to put runs on the board in 2018, finishing bottom of the Division Two of the Championship. The club removed head coach Robert Croft from his position, while Hugh Morris stepped down as director of cricket in order to focus on his role as chief executive.
“It’s always been my ambition to play first-class cricket in the UK so I am very thankful to Glamorgan for giving me this opportunity,” Hemphrey said. “With the changes in the cricket department it’s a very exciting time to join the club. Hopefully I can continue to put in some good performances for Queensland and bring that form to Glamorgan this season.”
Hemphrey’s involvement with Queensland could mean that he won’t arrive in Cardiff until days before the start of the season. The Sheffield Shield final is scheduled for March 27-31, with the Bulls looking to defend the title they won last year. Glamorgan begin their Championship season against Northamptonshire on April 11.
“Charlie is a very good cricketer who has blossomed in the past few years since playing in Australia,” Morris said. “He has scored runs in challenging batting conditions against some very good bowling attacks so will add valuable experience and skill at the top of the order.
“With his signing and that of Billy Root, we now have competition for places within the batting line-up, which will only help the development of our young pathway players.”
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