Pak, SA to clash today sans good batsmen

ST. LUCIA: Two of the brightest sides of last year''s tournament have been two of the bigger disappointments this time. And yet, a win for either here could still see them through to the semi-finals, depending on what happens in the game between England and New Zealand.

One of the team will end its Twenty20 sojourn today in case of defeat with Proteas on better foothold than Pakistan which need more ifs to make it to the semis.

Both the teams last clashed in the Cup last year; but, now this time with a huge difference as the team is led by Shahid Afridi who has lost form in batting and bowling both.

South Africa''s batsmen have scored only one half-century between them through the tournament: predictably, it came from the bat of Jacques Kallis.

Widely thought to be out of place in this format before the tournament, Salman Butt is the tournament''s second-highest run-getter with 189, behind Mahela Jayawardene (before the West Indies-India and Australia-Sri Lanka games on May 9)

Pakistan do not require a mathematical miracle to get through. A win here, and an England win over New Zealand, remarkably, might guarantee them a spot in the semis, given that Pakistan''s net run-rate is superior to both New Zealand and South Africa. For Graeme Smith''s men to go through, a win coupled with an English win, will be enough.

In any case, South Africa have been strangely inconsistent, a malaise that stretches beyond just this tournament and format to last year. In the Caribbean they''ve relied heavily on their pace duo of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel and both have been hot and cold; in particular, the latter''s no-ball problems are beginning to hurt. Little errors have crept in, the kind of untidiness you do not expect from them; catches have been dropped, edges have gone through slips, fumbles here and there. Their batting has been consistently weak.

Pakistan have struggled with most things, their batting line, the make-up of their attack and their fielding. Shahid Afridi''s form has gone, they''ve picked and dropped Mohammad Sami at the wrong moments, Abdul Razzaq has been used strangely, either opening the bowling or not bowling at all. Of their batsmen, only Salman Butt has been a success and he was least expected to be one.

Abdur Rehman made a fine comeback against New Zealand, picking up two cheap wickets in his first T20I for over two years. He has always been a successful limited-overs left-arm option and his return comes after one of his best domestic seasons. South Africa still struggle to score quickly against spin and Rehman''s position, amid the spin of Afridi and Saeed Ajmal, may well be crucial if the surface is given to spin.

Like India, Pakistan have also struggled against fast, short-pitched bowling, even in St Lucia, where Australia''s pace attack knocked them over. So Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn are likely to again be the central planks in their side''s plans to get through.

Pakistan are unlikely to tinker much with a line-up that did so well in the field against New Zealand. In fact, the right balance in their attack finally seems to have been struck, four games into the tournament.

With few batting replacements, Afridi will desperately hope one of his batsmen other than Butt can kick on, though dropping Mohammad Hafeez and bringing in Khalid Latif may be an option.

Though South Africa are still likelier to use pace to unsettle Pakistan''s batsmen, the nature of the pitch might warrant a return for Roelof van der Merwe, though he is wicketless thus far in the tournament. Their top order has struggled too, and whether or not the ageing, misfiring Herschelle Gibbs will continue to be persisted with is also open to question.

Pakistan (probable) 1 Salman Butt 2 Kamran Akmal (wk) 3 Mohammad Hafeez/Khalid Latif 4 Umar Akmal 5 Misbah-ul-Haq 6 Shahid Afridi (capt) 7 Abdul Razzaq 8 Mohammad Aamer 9 Mohammad Sami 10 Abdur Rehman 11 Saeed Ajmal

South Africa (probable) 1 Graeme Smith (capt) 2 Jacques Kallis 3 Loots Bosman/Herschelle Gibbs 4 AB de Villiers 5 JP Duminy 6 JA Morkel 7 MV Boucher (wk) 8 J Botha 9 Dale Steyn 10 Morne Morkel 11 Charl Langeveldt