Ever since its summer in England, the Pakistan team has been embroiled in one controversy after another. It is now just emerging from the commotion surrounding the flight of their wicketkeeper Zulqarnain Haider over claimed death threats. A win against South Africa in the second and final Test in Abu Dhani will surely put to rest the demons that have tormented the side for the last several months and raise their spirits and morale. So Pakistan go into this next match with a lot to play for and to come away with one victory from a so-far, largely dismal visit to the UAE will no doubt be uplifting.
Captain Misbah-ul-Haq, who is 36 years of age, may not be a long term option as skipper, but he has shown that he can bring a lot of right temperament and experience to the table when it matters the most. His patient 186-run stand with Younis Khan to draw the last match in the face of heavy odds, was a study in resilience and brilliance.
But Pakistan's bowling continues to be a downer, especially after the loss of Mohammad Asif and Mohammed Amir over the summer and now the sudden departure of Wahab Riaz due to groin strain deals Pakistan another major blow. The onus to make inroads and breakthroughs have almost completely and unfairly fallen on the spin twins - Abdur Rehman and Saeed Ajmal, and the two haven't quite been able to rise to occasion. There was much criticism from various quarters about Ajmal's bowling strategy, especially over his tendency to use the doosra once to often, thus tempering its efficacy.
While South Africa's batting continues to be its strong point, it's bowling leaves much to be desired. The Proteas's spinner were not as effective as hoped and so a lot will depend on how their new-ball pair of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel perform. Morkel's five-wicket haul which set up South Africa's first inings leads of 132 in the first Test, is an encouraging sign of things to come, but the bowler will have to delivery consistently in the upcoming test if South Africa is to get anywhere.
Among the keymen for Pakistan, stands Azhar Ali. He may not be the most elegant batsmen in the side, but he has brought a grittiness to the Pakistan batting which exudes raw courage. Since finding a place in the side earlier this year, he has played a pivotal role in Pakistan's victories. From scoring a half-century in the shaky runchase to beat Australia at Headingly, to notching up an unbeaten 92 in the win over England at the Oval, to lasting out 322 deliveries to hold of South Africa in the first test of this series, he has shown that he is an invaluable player.
Abu Dhabi's Sheik Zayed Stadium will be hosting its first test match on Saturday and it's pitch has a reputation or being quite lifeless. There won't be much assistance for either the fast bowlers or the spinners, so the fielding side will have to brace itself for heavy totals yet again. The die is cast for a scintillating conclusion to a compelling series in the UAE, and we will have to wait and see whether Pakistan can spring a surprise on a tough South Africa.