JOHANNESBURG: Many of South Africa’s best cricketers will be involved in Twenty20 matches on Saturday (today) but only some of them will be playing for their country in the first of four T20 internationals against Pakistan at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg.
The series is being played at the same time as the early stages of the Indian Premier League and the juxtaposition provides a clear illustration of the relative standing of the two international teams.
As the first innings in Johannesburg draws to a close on Saturday, Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Capitals will take the field in the IPL.
Former South African captain Faf du Plessis, fast bowler Lungi Ngidi and leg-spinner Imran Tahir are in the CSK squad, while fast bowlers Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje are contracted to Delhi.
Although they may sit out the first round of IPL games because of quarantine restrictions, all three of South Africa’s pace battery in the first two one-day internationals against Pakistan last weekend - Rabada, Nortje and Ngidi - will be in Mumbai instead of playing in Johannesburg.
Also in India after playing in the first two games against Pakistan are batsmen Quinton de Kock and David Miller, while IPL stars AB de Villiers and Chris Morris appear to have been lost to international cricket.
Pakistan, by contrast, have not lost any players to the IPL.
The non-participation of Pakistan players in cricket’s richest league owes more to politics than playing ability because the likes of Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman and Shaheen Shah Afridi would slot comfortably into any IPL side.
South Africa’s situation is one of pragmatism.
Cricket South Africa want to stay on the right side of their Indian counterparts by releasing their stars and in any case cannot afford to pay the sort of money that would persuade their leading players to put country ahead of club, especially for a tournament that was arranged less than two months ago.
South Africa head coach Mark Boucher put a positive spin on the loss of key players to the IPL, noting that they will be sharpening their skills against world-class opponents in the country where the T20 World Cup will be played later this year.
And the holes left in the national side provide opportunities for fringe players to push longer-term claims.
There are four uncapped men in the South African squad.
Pakistan won the one-day series that finished on Wednesday and will start favourites to win the T20 games as well.
They appear to be stronger in both batting and bowling, with South Africa’s batting further weakened by the likely absence through injury of captain Temba Bavuma and Rassie van der Dussen.
Pakistan, though, will be looking for bigger contributions from their middle order batsmen after the bulk of their runs in the one-day games came from their top three, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam.
Imam is not in the T20 squad but Fakhar, not originally in the squad, has been added, while Sharjeel Khan and Haider Ali will be vying for game time.
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