Ones to watch as Pakistan host South Africa in two-Test series live on Sky Sports
Watch Pakistan host South Africa in two-Test series live on Sky Sports Cricket from Tuesday; Proteas' first tour of the country since 2007; Fawad Alam and Hasan Ali could star for hosts but watch out for South Africa's Wiaan Mulder, who is dangerous with newer ball
By Tanzil Khawaja
Last Updated: 25/01/21 4:22pm
As Pakistan and South Africa lock horns Pakistan for the first time since 2007, the Proteas will be looking to repeat the success of their tour 14 years ago.
On that occasion, a 160-run win in the first Test in Karachi and a draw in the second in Lahore earned South Africa, then captained by Graeme Smith, a 1-0 win.
While there is no Test in Lahore this time around, the tour once again kicks off in Karachi and here are a few names to look out for as the much-anticipated series begins, live on Sky Sports...
It would be very easy for me to talk about Pakistan's skipper Babar Azam, who averages 202.50 in Tests in Pakistan, with three hundreds in total. He has one hundred in Karachi and two in Rawalpindi, including a career-best 143. But I won't talk about him!
Instead, let's look at the long-awaited homecoming of the local lad from Karachi, Fawad Alam. In 2009, against Sri Lanka, he became the first Pakistani cricketer to score a Test century on debut away from home but was dropped after two Tests and was not named in the side for the next 10 years.
Despite earning a call up to the squad for the Sri Lanka series in 2019, Alam did not play a Test and so his homecoming had been put on hold. Forward to 2021, Alam will be itching to showcase his talent on a ground where his numbers make him a vital asset to Pakistan's middle order.
Alam has played 26 first-class games at the National Stadium Karachi and racked up 2,340 runs, including eight half-centuries and 10 centuries with a superb average of 68.8 and a highest score of 224 not out. Those numbers alone will whet the appetites of Pakistan fans.
In Aiden Markram, South Africa have one of the most exciting young batsmen around and he has already been marked as a potential future Test captain. Achieving 1,000 runs in his first 10 Tests, Markram became the quickest South African to the mark in terms of matches played - averaging 55.55 with four hundreds in that span.
Though his next few matches weren't as fruitful, his recent form in the 4-Day Franchise Series should excite South African fans - Markram totalling 544 runs in five games at an average of 77.7 with three centuries. Markram may shine on a pitch that is rumoured to favour spin as, according to CricViz data, he prefers facing the slower bowlers, as his average of 36.4 vs pace rises to 57.7 when facing the spinners.
If Pakistan fans wish to see any one name up in lights it would be Hasan Ali. Once ranked the number one ODI bowler in the world, Ali suffered a back injury during the opening round of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy in 2019 and then, after a seven-week rehabilitation period, suffered a rib fracture on his return for the final round of the tournament in November that forced him to miss a further six weeks. However, his recent domestic form seems to be what Ali and Pakistan fans were waiting for.
After taking on captaincy of Central Punjab, he guided them to the Final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, a game that ended in a historic tie. Having hit a century in the chase of 356, along with taking five wickets, Ali finished the Player of the Final and Player of the Tournament after taking the most wickets by a pace bowler - 43 scalps at an average of 20.
Despite his limited appearance in first-class matches last year, Tabraiz Shamsi could cause Pakistan's batsmen some headaches. He bagged 8-32 during the 4-Day Franchise Series, while CricViz's data helps break down why he could be the key spinner up South Africa's sleeve.
Since the start of 2015 in first-class matches, Shamsi averages 32.6 against left handers having taken 32 wickets in that span. His best numbers, however, have come against right handers - 94 wickets at an average of 22.2, in stark contrast to how he has fared against the lefties. With Pakistan's batting line-up predominantly right-handed, South Africa may have the key to cause the hosts problems.
Yasir Shah will most likely be Pakistan's frontline spinner for the series but if the talk of the National Stadium Karachi pitch being spin friendly is true, then Pakistan may be tempted to bring in Sajid Khan to partner Shah.
The off-spinner took the most wickets in this year's Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, picking up 67 at an average of 25.1. What is most striking about his wickets is that 82 per cent of the scalps taken were of the top seven batsmen and with Pakistan missing a wicket-taking off-spinner in Tests for quite some time, Khan could be the surprise of the series.
Being Wiaan Mulder must not be an easy task. Right from the early days of his career, he was labelled as a batting all-rounder with whispers of the name Jacques Kallis flying around when talking about the 22-year-old.
Though far from those lofty heights, Mulder has started well with the bat, averaging nearly 40 with five hundreds and as many fifties in his 35 first-class games. In the current 4 Day Franchise Series, Mulder has 263 runs at an average of 43.8 and strike-rate of 74.71.
Mulder is no slouch with the ball either, particularly with a newer ball. In the three Tests he has played, Mulder averages 17.3 when bowling in the first 30 overs and 23 when bowling with a slightly older ball. When looking at his first-class numbers it's clear to see a pattern emerging. In overs 30-plus, Mulder averages 29.3 but this drops down to 24.4 before the 30-over mark.
Taking into account the nine wickets he took at 20.55 in the recent 2-0 win over Sri Lanka and it's clear to see why South Africa are excited about this young talent. He could end up being the find of the series.
Watch Pakistan's two-Test series at home to South Africa live on Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Mix from 4.50am on Tuesday.