PRETORIA, Dec 26 (Reuters) - Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed won the toss and elected to bat in the first test against South Africa starting at Centurion Park on Wednesday.
The pitch has good grass cover, which will make for a tough first hour for the visiting batsman, but with the wicket likely to have variable bounce on days four and five, Pakistan will hope to be able to set South Africa a tough target.
“The first hour will be very important, we have to play positive cricket to do well here in South Africa,” Ahmed said.
Pakistan have lost middle order batsman Haris Sohail to injury and he is replaced by Shan Masood, while lead seamer Mohammad Abbas has not recovered from a shoulder problem, but is likely to play in the second test in Cape Town.
Abbas is replaced by Mohammad Amir, who last played in the test series in England in June.
South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis admitted he would have batted first too, but is relishing the chance to unleash his seamers, including Dale Steyn, who is one scalp away from becoming the country’s outright all-time leading test wicket taker, on Pakistan.
“We would have batted first, the wicket is a bit slow in the first innings but the opportunity lies with the bowling side in the first hour,” Du Plessis said.
“With the heat and the cracks on day four and five it can start to play up and down.”
South Africa are without seamers Vernon Philander and Lungi Ngidi, handing Duanne Olivier a recall for his sixth test.
Pakistan have won only one of their previous test series home and away against the Proteas, and lost 3-0 on their last visit to the country in 2013.
They have won only four of their 23 tests at all venues against the South Africans.
South Africa: Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis (captain), Theunis de Bruyn, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Keshav Maharaj, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier
Pakistan: Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Mohammad Amir, Yasir Shah, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi (Reporting By Nick Said Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)