Given there is a certain other tournament that happens to coincide with this four-match series, South Africa against Pakistan at the Wanderers is unlikely to have global eyeballs fixed firmly upon it. One of the few T20I series longer than three games, it must have appeared, on paper, as the perfect appetizer ahead of the T20 World Cup later this year. These are two evenly-matched sides who have produced some of the most evenly-matched cricket in recent times, with the T20I series in Pakistan earlier in the year producing three enthralling clashes that had ebbs and flows usually only associated with cricket’s longer formats.
When Pakistan edged South Africa out 2-1 two months back, South Africa’s squad was severely depleted as they attempted to rest up for a then scheduled Test series against Australia that eventually never ended up taking place. However, the then visitors will have been buoyed by the performances of what was effectively a second-string XI, and must have been confident they would get their first-choice XI back in the return leg with a more seasoned side.
But this series’ clash with the IPL has exacted a heavy toll on the South Africans, five of whom are in India at the moment. To make matters worse, injuries have struck a number of those waiting in the wings to replace them, with Temba Bavuma and Dwaine Pretorius – who famously took 5 for 17 in Lahore in February – both ruled out. Rassie van der Dussen is also a doubt, while Reeza Hendricks has withdrawn due to the birth of his child this week.
All this gives Pakistan a clear shot at stamping their authority in a country where their T20I series-winning streak ground to a halt in 2019, with the wheels coming off the hottest T20I run since the format’s inception. Two years on, Pakistan are a shadow of that dominant unit but will fancy themselves to avenge that defeat with a squad that has no real injury issues of its own. Shadab Khan’s absence is well covered by Usman Qadir, while Fakhar Zaman’s ODI form has earned him a recall for this format. Mohammad Hafeez, one of the key absences for Pakistan in the home series in February, is also available.
The Pakistan bowlers likely to feature are mostly the same personnel who did the job in the ODI series, though should the visitors wrap this series up early, there might be the possibility of younger players being handed international experience. Nineteen-year-old Mohammad Wasim was one of the most impressive PSL prospects earlier this year, and is a part of the squad. As is Arshad Iqbal, who followed up a stellar PSL season last year with another distinguished campaign this time around. With the T20 World Cup fast approaching and the opposition down to bare bones before the series even begins, Pakistan may find they have the chance to flex their bench strength in a way few sides do in South Africa.
(Last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa LWLLL
In the spotlight
Kyle Verreynne hasn’t yet played a T20I match, but already seems like he will be one of the key hopes for this depleted South Africa side. The 23-year old has long been regarded as one of the stars of the future generation and in the few ODIs he has had the chance to play, he has shown why. His most recent game – the third ODI against Pakistan – saw him drag his side from a near-certain defeat to well within contention with a 53-ball 62. It is that sort of confidence in his abilities that has sparked comparisons with some of his more decorated countrymen over the years. His domestic T20 record isn’t quite as impressive as his first-class numbers, but if he’s looking to grab a spot in this side, this is an obvious chance.
Sharjeel Khan looks set to return to Pakistan colours for the first time in four years. Few selections have been as contentious or had as many points of interest as the inclusion of the left-hand opener. There have been questions about his past as well as his fitness, but despite all the baggage Sharjeel brings with him, there is a reason Pakistan’s selectors have been so keen to welcome him back. Half a decade ago, he was among the most fearsome strikers of the ball, and that hasn’t changed in all these years. A glimpse of his power was on display at the PSL, where only Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan scored more runs than him, though neither could match his strike rate of 170.94. Against this severely-depleted South Africa attack, expect Sharjeel to go in all guns blazing.
For South Africa, this squad inherently means an uncertain XI. van der Dussen’s inclusion would be a major boost for an inexperienced middle order, while Aiden Markram, Andile Phehlukwayo and Wiaan Mulder have been called up as cover.
South Africa (possible): 1 Janneman Malan, 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Pite van Biljon, 4 Kyle Verreynne, 5 Heinrich Klaasen (capt & wk), 6 Andile Phehlukwayo, 7 Wiaan Mulder, 8 George Linde, 9 Beuran Hendricks, 10 Lizaad Williams, 11 Tabraiz Shamsi/Daryn Dupavillon
Zaman, who wasn’t a part of the original T20I squad, might slot back straight into the side, while Haider Ali might be included after being overlooked for the ODIs. It is unlikely Pakistan will line up with two spinners at the Wanderers, so Zahid Mehmood might miss out.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Sharjeel Khan/Fakhar Zaman, 2 Babar Azam (capt), 3 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 4 Haider Ali, 5 Mohammad Hafeez, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Faheem Ashraf, 8 Hasan Ali, 9 Shaheen Afridi, 10 Haris Rauf/Mohammad Hasnain, 11 Usman Qadir
Pitch and conditions
This should be a high-scoring game, in line with the Wanderers’ reputation. Inclement weather is unlikely to make its presence felt.
Stats and trivia
- Mohammad Hafeez will become just the sixth player to feature in 100 T20Is should he play on Saturday. One Pakistani has achieved the feat so far – Shoaib Malik.
- The Wanderers is the venue of South Africa’s heaviest T20I defeat – a 107-run thumping against Australia last year.
“They are a quality side. It’s nice playing against them. We need to win this series to get back at them. They’ve played good cricket against us.”
South Africa’s wicketkeeper and stand-in captain Heinrich Klaasen knows Pakistan are a challenging side to play against
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000