The Rawalpindi surface is historically much friendlier to pacers than spinners
Pakistan head coach Misbah ul Haq has said he is prepared to drop spinners, despite their stellar contributions to the team’s win in the first Test against South Africa, if the Rawalpindi pitch favours the fast bowlers. But at the same time, he said Pakistan were looking to prepare a drier surface than normal in Pindi, which would theoretically assist the slower bowlers more.
In the last five years, pacers have had significantly more joy in Rawalpindi. They have averaged 21.40, picking up 498 wickets at the venue in first-class cricket, with spinners responsible for just 72 wickets at 34.18 with a strike rate of 67.50. The recent record raises questions about whether Pakistan can afford to go in with the same spin-heavy strategy that masterminded their Karachi win, where Nauman Ali and Yasir Shah combined to take 14 of South Africa’s 20 wickets.
This is a departure from the tactics Pakistan employed against Bangladesh in Pindi last year, where Yasir was the only frontline spinner alongside three quick bowlers. In Karachi, the weather was drier and the groundsmen kept the pitch covered to ensure it retained some moisture, but even so, 14 wickets fell on the first day. In Pindi, however, the cooler weather means groundstaff are exposing it to the sun to allow the moisture to evaporate.
“The weather and pitch is different from what we got in Karachi but we will take a call closer to the game,” Misbah said after the first day of training session in Rawalpindi stadium. “We are open for change if needed and it’s not compulsory to play a spinner just because he did well in Karachi. If it’s quite evident that the surface isn’t suiting a spinner, we are ready to bring in a fast bowler.”
“We are trying to accrue maximum home advantage. Normally in first-class cricket here (in Rawalpindi), this pitch is much greener and in between games, there isn’t much time for them to dry as moisture stays in. But recently the pitch got enough time with sunlight which is good and I am hoping to have it on a drier side just according to what we asked for.”
Reflecting on the pressure he was under over the extra scrutiny from the PCB cricket committee, Misbah insisted he wasn’t worried. “Whatever has been talked around me with what the PCB is thinking, I didn’t care about it as the focus was always about how important this series is. My energy was on how to produce good results and how can we do well. So thinking about uncontrollable things is a waste of time and energy and builds pressure without doing any good.
“It was a much-needed win in Karachi and the best part was the fightback from a difficult situation, which was outstanding. Now, we are guarding against complacency. The conditions are likely to be different but we have to carry on with all the good things we did in the first Test and look out for the areas where we can improve. We know South Africa is a tough team and they will come hard with full preparation to square the series but we have to be ready and go full throttle to win the series.”
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent