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Pakistan captain Babar hopes to counter South Africa on home turf

Babar Azam will make his Test captaincy debut o n a tough South Africa team that is touring Pakistan for the first time in more than 13 years.

Azam has recovered from a thumb injury that kept him out of the two-Test series in New Zealand, which Pakistan lost 2-0.

“I missed the series against New Zealand, but it’s a proud moment for me that I am doing my captaincy debut in my own country,” Azam said Monday.

“South Africa is a good team. You can’t take them lightly, but conditions suit us more because most of us have played here.”

South Africa last toured Pakistan in 2007 because the country was forced to organise its “home” Test series in the United Arab Emirates following a terrorist attack on a bus carrying the Sri Lanka team in Lahore in 2009.

The second test will be played in Rawalpindi from Feb. 4, followed by the three-match Twenty20 series in Lahore from Feb.11-14.

Pakistan is out of the race to qualify for the World Test Championship final at Lord’s in June while South Africa has only a mathematical chance to make it with India, New Zealand, Australia and England among the top contenders.

Azam was well aware of Pakistan’s poor test record against South Africa, winning only four of 26 against the Proteas. One of Pakistan’s 15 losses came at the National Stadium — the venue for the first Test — when South Africa toured in 2007.

“We should not think about past, we should focus on what’s ahead of us,” Azam said. “It’s a fact that we don’t have a good record against them, but we have prepared well and we hope to give our best against them this time.”

Pakistan has included six uncapped players in a 17-man squad. Opening batsman Imran Butt and left-arm spinner Nauman Ali could make their Test debuts on Tuesday.

Azam also said Pakistan might go with an additional spinner along with Yasir Shah. “We have practiced here for a week now and the wicket looks a bit slow,” Azam said.

Only South Africa coach Mark Boucher has previously played red-ball cricket in Pakistan, while the experienced Faf du Plessis has twice toured Pakistan over the last four years but played only in the Twenty20 format. Du Plessis led a World XI team to Pakistan for three Twenty20s in 2017 and then last year represented Peshawar Zalmi in the Pakistan Super League playoffs.

“I’m sure this Pakistan team is going to be tough,” South Africa captain Quinton de Kock said when the team arrived. “I think our biggest challenge is the conditions that we could face, the unknowing of the things that we have to deal with.”

Boucher said he expected the wicket in Karachi to help spinners and it might tempt him to include an extra spinner along with first choice left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj.

“It’s (the wicket) definitely going to turn,” Boucher said. “The conditions are going to be proper subcontinent conditions where I don’t think there’s a lot of assistance for seamers.

“We’ve definitely come in with the mindset that if you want to win a series away from home, you’ve got to make a couple of brave calls at the end, (and) the selectors and the team are going with that mindset into the game.”

Meanwhile, coronavirus restrictions and thousands of security staff made for challenging conditions for South Africa on their tour of Pakistan, head coach Mark Boucher said Monday.

“It is challenging from a management perspective — especially when you are in a place like Pakistan where you can’t get outside,” Boucher told a virtual press conference.

A massive security detail made up of police and paramilitary personnel is guarding the team at their hotel and the stadium, forcing the squad to spend a lot of time in their rooms.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s sustainable from a financial and just a headspace point of view for players, for staff, for management,” Boucher said of the coronavirus restrictions.

“I think it’s been necessary to get the game of cricket up and running. I think everyone understands that. But it doesn’t make it easier.”

Boucher, who toured Pakistan in a more relaxed atmosphere in 1997, 2003 and 2007, is a former South African wicketkeeper with a world record 555 dismissals behind the stumps in 147 Tests.

Most of the South African top players will return home after the second Test in Rawalpindi (Feb. 4-8) to prepare for the Australia series, and a second-string will feature in the Twenty20 series.

The three Twenty20 internationals will be played on Feb.11, 13 and 14, all in Lahore.

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