Brand Pakistan is different
Every team that hits South African shores arrives believing they can play a specific brand of cricket to take on the best. For most it does not take long to realise that South African conditions are extremely challenging and their expectations are often proven optimistic against a champion team.
New Zealand are the latest to depart the test arena with their tails between their legs but many have fallen into the same trap over the years. A couple of seasons ago India felt the wrath of a fired-up pace barrage and had to rely on some exceptional cricketers to dig deep with the willow to level the series.
Australia and England have always competed due to disciplined and talented performances from determined individuals but generally that required consistency has been missing when teams have journeyed from Asia. Pakistan this time, however, will be worth watching closely.
Pakistan have a dangerous pace bowling pack. It is an exciting unit possessing the necessary skill sets with variations to match. Due to the conditions they have experienced over the years they have always known they cannot rely on exploiting willing surfaces and have had to conjure up their own wizardry, of which they are masters.
They will revel in the extra bounce they will extract first up at the Wanderers after playing regularly on tracks as placid as a Labrador in the United Arab Emirates. The other aspect that will ensure extra scrutiny prior to that test match is that a couple of their seamers have hit the headlines but are still relatively unknown.
Left-armers with height and pace will ask questions and any semblance of opportunity to engage reverse swing will be eagerly accepted. Add to that mix the guile and trickery of Ajmal and it becomes clear that the South African batsmen will be facing a completely different proposition this series.
I am a firm believer that to be successful against South Africa, teams must be prepared to challenge them and bring something different to the table or they will be worn down by excellence. In order to introduce that strategy though, teams must be able to identify crucial junctures and introduce that playbook from a position of strength. Pakistan will have the skills to implement this change-up but history tells us they are prone to infuriating recklessness which has sabotaged many endeavours.
Their batting will be their weak link. They do have some quality purveyors of the willow but consistency against some of the best around on home soil will be their challenge. One thing they won't do is timidly surrender and rest assured any resultant volatility will be exploited by Steyn and company on a regular basis. How they handle that targeting will go a long way towards deciding the series scoreline.
Pakistan have been on the road continually since the Lahore horrors of March 2009 and have played on all number of surfaces during that duration. During that time they have discarded some rotten apples, introduced some talented youth, soundly beaten some leading teams, and appear to be a relatively galvanised unit. That assessment is enough reason for Pakistan supporter expectation.
In my book South Africa will be too efficient and calculating in key areas and that will in turn force Pakistan to adopt an extravagant and at times irrational style of play that will hinder advancement. Pakistan do however exhibit an exciting brand of cricket that is always littered with talent, aggression and the unexpected. For those reasons this series will not disappoint.