It's become quite evident that Pakistan's vulnerable spot is its batting. Collapses have become all too familiar with the openers imploding, Umar Akmal playing a couple of attractive strokes before getting out, Afridi blasting a few biffs before holing out and the rest of the innings progressing without much purpose or intent.
Can Pakistan pull itself together for the one-days series against South Africa? Younis Khan may have returned to the fold, but Mohanned Yousuf and Shoaib Malik will be sorely missed. Much of the onus will fall on the gifted Umar Akmal and on Shahid Afridi who will have to keep his cool. Mohammed Hafeez bowled credibly in the Twenty20 matches but he failed to impress with the bat. Again, it's the same old story: a couple of quality shots followed by a rush of blood which leads to his undoing. Can he change course in the ODI series?
South Africa will be bolstered up with the return of premier batsmen Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis and speedster Dale Steyn. One must see who will be dropped to make way for Kallis in the middle order. Will it be the ever-consistent Colin Ingram or the hard-hitting David Miller?
It is clear that for Pakistan, the man to watch out for is Younis Khan. But he won't get much leeway to ease back into the team and will be almost solely responsible for holding the innings together in the middle overs. In the last two years, he has played nearly 30 matches with a so-so average of 25.11 with just one century. He doesn't have a threatening record against South Africa either, averaging a mere 25.02 from 29 ODIs at a strike rate of under 67.
The key man for the Proteas will undoubtedly be Graeme Smith. He is due for some runs having averaged just 28 from three games against Zimbabwe, but scoring a crucial 38 in the second Twenty20 against Pakistan. He played slowly against the spinners, but didn't throw his wicket away. It will be interesting to see how he fares through this series. Meanwhile Dale Steyn who hasn't had much experience against Pakistan, will be fiery and ready to go after recovering from his recent elbow injury.
Emerging from a controversy-laden summer, Pakistan will be thankful to be involve in some high-class cricket ahead of the World Cup next year. They need to lift their ODI game to quite an extent as their recent showing in the format has been less than impressive. The side saw a horrible start to 2010 when they were subjected to a 5-0 whipping at the hands of the Aussies in the ODI series. They they lost to both Sri Lanka and India in the Asia Cup, before beating a lackluster Bangladeshi side. On its recent tour of England, Pakistan lost the one-day series 2-3.
South Africa on the other hand, have been in blistering form. The side is coming into the series on a nine-match winning streak, having beaten Zimbabwe and the West Indies earlier this year. Since 2005, the Proteas and Pakistan have played each other eleven times with the former winning seven of the encounters. Pakistan have had mixed luck playing in the UAE since 2007: the side beat Sri Lanka and the West Indies but lost to Australia and New Zealand. South Africa however, have a far better win-loss record and their run-rate is among the best in the world. Pakistan scores over them in the bowling department with better economy and strike rates, but the side's poorer results can be attributed to it inconsistent batting.
Shahid Afridi has been Pakistan's best batsmen in the last two years, hitting some remarkable innings including a memorable 109 of just 76 balls in a close loss against Sri Lanka. Misbah-ul-Haq, who averages just under 40, will be another batsman to watch out for in the middle overs, along with Younis Khan. But Pakistan's greatest concern will be its top order that have made paltry scores. So, it remains to be seen if Pakistan can get its act together and meet the challenge of the great Proteas.