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 Shadab Khan/Yasir Shah, 8 Faheem Ashraf, 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