The British and Irish Lions' tour of South Africa is set to go ahead as planned later this year after proposals to stage matches elsewhere were rejected.

Due to continued complications surrounding the coronavirus crisis, questions were raised over whether the Lions would be able to travel to South Africa for the eight-match trip.

But rather than host matches in the UK and Ireland, or take up Australia's offer to play games Down Under, it has been decided to press ahead with the original itinerary

The Lions and SA Rugby released a joint statement on Tuesday to confirm an agreement is in place over the staging of the tour, which begins on July 3 and continues into early August.

"After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the board's intended position is for the Tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021," said Lions chairman Jason Leonard.

"We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust Covid-19 countermeasure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted Tour. SA Rugby will have our full support to help implement this plan."

However, the original plan for the Lions to play five warm-up matches against provincial teams, an invitational side and second-string South Africa A before the three-Test series with the Springboks could still change.

"We appreciate the Lions' faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour,” said SA Rugby president Mark Alexander in the same statement. 

"We have been in regular contact with our government to make that a reality against the backdrop of the pandemic and its predicted progression over the coming months.

"There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby, should the event take place without any supporters in attendance, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations. 

"But we are determined that the eventual outcome will deliver the best occasion and experience for players, supporters and our commercial partners."

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney acknowledged the preferred contingency plan of staging the tour in the UK had become increasingly unviable.

"It was always the preferred option to go to South Africa," he said. "We had to develop a whole range of different scenarios given the potential outcomes and one of those was a UK series.

"It's quite controversial as it's not the spirit of the Lions, but as fall-back option, we thought it was a strong one. If they can't host it, the agreement's off and we've probably run out of time to host it in the UK, so you play in 2025."

Lions coach Warren Gatland is due to announce a squad for the tour at the start of May, with the first warm-up match to be played on home soil on Murrayfield against Japan on June 26.

South Africa have announced the appointment of Dean Elgar as Test captain, while Temba Bavuma is to take charge of the Proteas in limited-overs cricket.  

The announcement of the duo to their respective roles comes after Quinton de Kock had led South Africa in all formats on a temporary basis, though Heinrich Klaasen was in charge for last month’s Twenty20 series in Pakistan due to the wicketkeeper-batsman's absence.  

Cricket South Africa (CSA) director of cricket Graeme Smith thanked De Kock for his efforts as skipper, while made clear he will continue to play an “integral role” as part of the leadership group.  

Opening batsman Elgar – who has played 67 Tests and scored 13 hundreds in the format - will be skipper through the next cycle of the ICC World Test Championship.  

Bavuma, meanwhile, is to lead South Africa in the 2021 and 2022 T20 World Cup tournaments, as well as the next 50-over World Cup, which takes place in India in 2023. He will also serve as vice-captain in Test cricket, too.

"We as CSA are pleased with the appointments of Temba and Dean and believe that we have the men who will lead the Proteas back to their winning ways of old," Smith said in a statement. 

"The pair bring the required stability in both leadership and form to turn the ship in the direction that will eventually bring trophies back to the cabinets. 

"Temba has been a strong and influential voice in the team in recent times and has shown consistency on the field in all formats, solidifying his place as a leader. He also has the trust and backing of the players and coaches around him.” 

On Elgar, he added: “Dean has made no secret of his Test captaincy ambitions over the years and we are pleased to have a leader who is ready, willing and able to step up to the massive task of turning our Test cricket fortunes around.  

"His role as a leader in the Test team has never been in doubt and I know that he relishes the prospect of captaining the Test team. We are confident that he will bring the same grit and determination to his captaincy as he has brought to his many performances on the field over many years."

Rugby World Cup-winning South Africa captain Siya Kolisi has officially signed with the Sharks.

Kolisi was at the weekend released from his contract with the Stormers, which had been due to expire in October, upon the acceptance of a transfer fee.

The 29-year-old flanker was expected to join Durban-based franchise the Sharks and that move was confirmed on Wednesday.

Kolisi made 118 Super Rugby appearances in his 11 years with the Stormers, for whom only Schalk Burger (123) managed more.

Mohammad Nawaz and debutant Zahid Mahmood starred as Pakistan held their nerve to a seal a 2-1 Twenty20 series win over South Africa despite the best efforts of David Miller and Tabraiz Shamsi.

The Proteas were rocking at 65-7 and thinking of the plane home, with the brilliant Zahid taking 3-40 and Nawaz 2-13 to leave the tourists in a spin in Lahore.

All-rounder Miller made it a contest by clubbing an electric 85 off just 45 deliveries to steer South Africa to 164-8.

Shamsi's outstanding 4-25 made things even more interesting but ultimately the poor showing from the top order told as Pakistan secured a four-wicket win with eight balls to spare.

South Africa started poorly as Mohammad Nawaz's ripper clipped off Reeza Hendrick's (2) thigh and from his next over more early turn saw JJ Smuts (1) sky one that Babar Azam pouched running back from the ring.

Pite van Biljon (16) struck Hasan Ali for three consecutive fours in the sixth over before trying for one too many and seeing the spinner find a huge gap.

Zahid then came to the fore, Heinrich Klaasen (0) top-edging to short fine leg and Janneman Malan trapped lbw, while Andile Phehlukwayo (0) survived a leg before appeal in the same over.

Phehlukwayo fell to Usman Qadir in the next over and Zahid had a third when Dwaine Pretorius (9) - star of the second T20 - had his middle stump torn up.

It was Miller time from there, though, as South Africa's dangerman single-handedly made it a contest - slapping seven sixes and five fours in a sensational knock.

Miller cleared the ropes a couple of times off Zahid in the 13th over, before unloading for four sixes from the final set off Faheem Ashraf to give Pakistan a genuine chase.

Pakistan were looking pretty serene with a 51-run opening stand between Mohammad Rizwan (42) and Haider Ali (15) but Shamsi's turner left the latter's technique exposed and the same man had the former trapped plumb lbw.

Things became even more tense with Shamsi accounting for Hussain Talat (5) and Asif Ali (7), with Babar's industrious 44 coming to an end between those dismissals.

Faheem fell for 10 as Pakistan's legs wobbled but Nawaz (18) and Hasan (20) steered the hosts over the line, the latter clubbing a six over midwicket to seal the series in style.

South Africa will be hoping some fresh faces can lead to a change in fortunes in Pakistan as the two nations switch focus to the Twenty20 format. 

Lahore will stage all three matches in the series, which comes after Pakistan recorded a 2-0 sweep over the same opponents in Test action. 

However, many of the Proteas who featured in that series are not involved in the T20 fixtures, including captain Quinton de Kock. 

Heinrich Klaasen is instead in charge for the tourists, while Dwaine Pretorius, Lutho Sipamla, Tabraiz Shamsi and George Linde are the only members of the squad who have stayed on after Test duty. 

The stand-in skipper insists that while South Africa may be lacking in experience, those on duty are determined to seize the opportunities that come their way during the trip. 

"South Africa has got loads of talent, which people sometimes don't see because we only have six franchises," Klaasen said. "We are by no means a second-string T20 squad, and we are looking to win." 

Klaasen revealed he is now "fit and safe" after overcoming COVID-19, though it took a heavy toll on him physically. He put up an Instagram post during his recovery to make clear the effects of the virus, in which he wrote: "Covid is real and didn't think it would be this hard to come back". 

As for Pakistan, they have named a 20-man squad that includes four uncapped players but is missing Mohammad Hafeez, who failed to come to an agreement over the date he was to enter the group's bio-secure bubble. 

Fakhar Zaman and Wahab Riaz are also notable absentees having been dropped, while Shadab Khan is ruled out through injury. 

Zafar Gohar, Danish Aziz, Zahid Mehmood and Amad Butt are the quartet of new faces, while Hasan Ali – the hero for the hosts in the second Test with 10 wickets in the match – is back involved again in the shortest format.

Pakistan go into the opening game on Thursday having won 14 of their previous 18 T20 matches on home soil (L4), including the last five in a row.


Babar right up there with the best

No matter what the format, Babar Azam is crucial to Pakistan. The right-handed batsman has scored the most amount of runs in T20 cricket at international level since the start of 2018, managing 1,213 across his 28 innings at an average of 52.7.

After a relatively quiet Test series in terms of his individual output, Babar will be eager to capitalise on a new-look South African attack that is without the services of pace trio Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi.

Positive spin to help Proteas

Shamsi is one of the few who has remained for the T20 series; the left-arm wrist spinner was ruled out of the first Test with a back injury and then did not feature in the second match.

The 30-year-old has played in 25 T20 games for South Africa, taking 21 wickets at 33.33 with an economy rate of 7.69 runs per over, and has the chance to become a pivotal member of the XI, particularly with a World Cup in the format to come in India later this year.

Key series facts

- South Africa have never lost a multi-game bilateral T20 series in Asia, winning five times out of a possible six in the continent (D1).
- Since the start of 2018, Pakistan wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed (18 catches and five stumpings) has been directly involved in the joint-most T20 dismissals among those featuring for a Test-playing nation (23 – level with Alex Carey and Tim Seifert).
- Since the start of 2018, Babar Azam has scored the most runs in the T20 format, managing 1,213 runs across his 28 innings at an average of 52.7.
- Only David Miller from the current Proteas squad has played a T20 international game in Pakistan, having represented the World XI in 2017. He has logged 20 catches in the format since the start of 2018, the third-most of those to feature for a Test-playing nation.
- Faheem Ashraf recorded more dot balls than any other player during the T20 series against New Zealand in December 2020). He has only been able to claim four wickets at an average of 41.3 in Pakistan, however.

Hasan Ali claimed his maiden 10-wicket Test match haul as Pakistan completed a 2-0 series whitewash of South Africa despite a century from Aiden Markram.

Seamer Hasan took 5-60 as the Proteas collapsed to 274 all out Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium on Monday, losing by 95 runs after looking poised to level the series.

Hasan finished with magnificent match figures of 10-114, inspiring Pakistan to a first series triumph over South Africa since 2003.

South Africa had been going along nicely on 241-3 chasing 370 to win, but the tourists fell apart after Markram was dismissed for a superb 108.

Markram's fifth Test hundred – and his first since March 2018 – proved to be in vain as Hasan was once again the star of the show on the final day.

Temba Bavuma made 61 and Rassie van der Dussen 48, but South Africa lost seven wickets for only 33 runs, Shaheen Shah Afridi also doing damage, taking 4-51.

Quinton de Kock fell for a golden duck, while Keshav Maharaj and Kagiso Rabada also failed to trouble the scorers.

Victory for Pakistan moved them up to fifth in the Test rankings and was their first series win since beating Bangladesh 12 months ago, bringing the Proteas back down to earth after their 2-0 defeat of Sri Lanka.

South Africa have now lost four of their past five series and are unable to respond with a victory over Australia on home soil after the series was postponed.

Hasan's Test-best stuns Proteas

South Africa could not contend with Hasan in the first innings and it was the same story on the final day of the series.

He saw the back of Van der Dussen and Faf du Plessis (five) in the morning session, then came to the party again with the second new ball

Hasan claimed the big wicket of Markram, who was caught by Imran Butt, then dismissed captain De Kock first ball before sending George Linde packing. Afridi also delivered for Pakistan, with Yasir Shah sealing victory by bowling Wiaan Mulder when he charged down the track.

Markam stakes captaincy claim

It proved to be a day to forget for the tourists, but Markram's knock was a major positive.

The opener showed his class, batting for over five and a half hours – hitting three sixes and finding the rope 13 times – as he staked his claim for the captaincy.

South Africa still need 243 runs but have nine wickets in hand as they look to complete the highest chase by a visiting team in Pakistan after Mohammad Rizwan's unbeaten century set them a mammoth target. 

Pakistan had begun day four of the second Test in Rawalpindi on 129-6 in their second innings, meaning a lead of 200. 

However, Rizwan's 115 not out helped them build that to 369, leaving the Proteas with an arduous task that Aiden Markram and Rassie van der Dussen attacked impressively in the final session.

Markram and Van der Dussen reached stumps unbeaten on 59 and 48 respectively as South Africa moved to 127-1 in reply by the close, their efforts keeping an excellent Test in the balance and keeping the tourists' hopes of squaring the two-match series at 1-1 intact. 

Rizwan had resumed on 28 and ensured South Africa would not succeed in keeping the lead under 300, his maiden Test century potentially a match-winning one. 

His fluent innings comprised of 15 fours and continued a theme of the series as Pakistan's tail provided stubborn resistance once again.

The wicketkeeper-batsman put on a stand of 53 with Yasir Shah (23) and then a ninth-wicket partnership of 97 with Nauman Ali, who made 45, before George Linde - bowling with strapping on a lacerated finger - claimed a five-for by dismissing Shaheen Shah Afridi, Pakistan all out for 298. 

South Africa lost opener Dean Elgar for 17 at the hands of Shaheen in the ninth over of their response but, with the surface holding up well, Markram and Van der Dussen provided hope with an unbeaten stand of 94, the former hitting nine fours and a pair of sixes. 

Yet with the highest chase in Rawalpindi coming in 2000 when Sri Lanka prevailed by reaching 220-8, history is against South Africa getting this especially difficult job done.

South Africa face a battle to avoid another first-innings deficit after Anrich Nortje's fine work with the ball was undone by a rocky reply to Pakistan's 272 in the second Test.

Pakistan had made 145-3 on day one before rain intervened and Nortje was the cause of their frustration when play resumed on Friday, snaring 5-56 to put the hosts in the field before tea.

But the Proteas' solid early efforts with the bat - including a string of boundaries - were disrupted by Hasan Ali, who removed Dean Elgar (15) and Rassie van der Dussen from consecutive deliveries.

With those wickets right at the end of the second session, the day turned and Faf du Plessis followed to Faheem Ashraf for 17.

Nauman Ali - sublime in the first Test as Pakistan dominated - then teed up a simple but crucial catch for Shaheed Afridi to remove Aiden Markram (32), reducing South Africa to 81-4 before a mini-recovery to 106 without further loss preceded the close of play.

It ended a day of two halves as the Proteas, just like a day earlier, enjoyed a productive first session, with Babar Azam unable to add to his overnight score of 77, edging Nortje to second slip from just the second ball of the day.

Fawad Alam (45), who had held up the other end of a vital partnership on Thursday, swiftly followed, too, run out with a superb direct hit from Temba Bavuma.

Faheem steadied the Pakistan innings slightly, although Nortje's decision to take the second new ball soon paid dividends as he halted Mohammad Rizwan (18) in his next over.

That dismissal ended a promising stand of 41 and Faheem eventually ran out of partners, still unbeaten on 78 as Nortje concluded the innings and his five-for with fierce deliveries to Nauman and Shaheen in the same over.

Only if South Africa can regain some composure with the bat will Nortje be able to celebrate his contribution to a much-needed win, which would be their first in 14 Tests on the subcontinent.


HASAN ALI HAVING HIS SAY

Hasan has endured a tough time with injury in the past few years, returning to the Test arena in this series for the first time since January 2019. If the fast bowler was merely playing a supporting role to the spinners in the opening match last week, this was a more telling contribution, potentially changing the course of the result.

SOUTH AFRICA TURN TO SKIPPER

Quinton de Kock would appear to be taking charge of his final Test match as South Africa captain but may now have to rediscover his best form to make sure it is not a losing swan song. The skipper has not made a Test fifty since January 2020 or a hundred since October 2019, yet the Proteas were reeling as he arrived at the crease on Friday, able to settle the innings a little by dashing to an unbeaten 24 at stumps.

Babar Azam and Fawad Alam halted a worrying start to the second Test between Pakistan and South Africa before rain stopped play at Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium on Thursday.

Pakistan won the opening Test but lost three wickets for just one run as they were reduced to 22-3 in a promising first session for the Proteas on day one.

However, like he did with a century in Karachi last week, Fawad (42no) helped get the hosts back on track by establishing a 123-run partnership with captain Babar (77no).

The pair displayed some wonderful shots as they took the match to South Africa, with Babar racking up 12 fours and Fawad five but rain during tea stopped them returning on 145-3.

Keshav Maharaj would have had a first-ball wicket had Temba Bavuma held on to Imran Butt (15) at first slip on 13 but he got his man courtesy of a sharp catch from wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, making his final appearance as Test captain.

Maharaj (2-51) had Azhar Ali lbw for a duck in his next over and Pakistan looked in serious trouble when Aiden Markram reacted brilliantly at short leg after Anrich Nortje's rapid delivery struck Abid Ali (6) on the thigh and zoomed towards him.

However, Babar responded by getting off the mark with back-to-back boundaries and, alongside Karachi hero Fawad, steered the hosts to lunch without further loss.

The duo continued to assert themselves and Babar brought up his 16th Test half-century and took Pakistan into triple figures with a fine shot in front of square.

Kagiso Rabada thought he had made the breakthrough but his appeal for lbw against Babar was ignored, with replays showing the skipper sent an inside edge onto his pads.

South Africa were unable to break the impressive fourth-wicket stand before tea and heavy rainfall denied them the chance to make further inroads during the final session.

 

PEAKY LINDE

George Linde left the field during the first session for an X-ray after hurting a finger on his left bowling hand while fielding.

He did not sustain a fracture but received stitches and practiced bowling with protective strapping on before stepping back inside the ropes before tea.

Linde did not bowl another over, but the Proteas will be hoping he can do so before the end of the match, with Dean Elgar having stepped up as a second spin option.

South Africa will want to avoid being on the wrong end of a series sweep as they aim to end a barren run in Asia when they go up against Pakistan in the second Test. 

Having suffered a seven-wicket defeat in Rawalpindi, the Proteas are now winless in their previous 13 Tests on the subcontinent, a dismal run of form that followed a 153-run victory over Sri Lanka in Galle in July 2014. 

The tourists were undone by Pakistan's spin pairing of Yasir Shah and Nauman Ali in the first game, with the duo taking 14 of the 20 South Africa wickets to fall at the National Stadium. 

However, the venue for the second Test could offer a little more help to the quicker bowlers, a welcome boost for struggling South Africa as they bid to draw level. 

Their plans for the first Test were hampered by the late withdrawal of Tabraiz Shamsi, who suffered a back issue in the warm-up and had to be replaced by paceman Lungi Ngidi.  

Shamsi has recovered in time to be considered for selection, while opening batsman Dean Elgar is also fit to play after a taking a nasty blow to the hand while batting in his team's second innings. 

South Africa fought hard in the face of a hefty first-innings deficit but were left with too much to do after only making 220 on day one. Amid the frustration, all the top seven in the order reached double figures but failed to build on it, their cause not helped by both Rassie van der Dussen and Temba Bavuma getting run out. 

As for the hosts, their line-up may well depend on the pitch. Considering the balance of the side worked so well last time out, it could be they go with the same XI again. 

The top order did struggle but Fawad Alam's century and a wagging tail helped rescue their first innings, having at one stage slumped to 27-4 late on day one. Babar Azam had a quiet debut in his role as Test captain in terms of his output with the bat, managing 37 runs in his two knocks.

CAPTAINCY SWANSONG FOR DE KOCK? 

It appears Quinton de Kock is set for his final Test in charge of the Proteas – for now at least. The wicketkeeper-batsman may have been set to continue in the role for the Tests against Australia on home soil, but that series has been postponed. Instead, the break will allow De Kock to get some well-earned rest and team management to assess their options. 

"When we get back after this tour we've got a bit of time before our next series so we can sit down and make a good, solid call on who can take over from him and release him from that burden and try and get the best out of him," South Africa coach Mark Boucher said on the eve of the game. 

 
SPINNERS IN SIGHT FOR YASIR 

Yasir played a pivotal role in the opener, finishing with match figures of 7-133. His haul in Karachi takes his career tally in Tests to 234 wickets, meaning he is just three shy of fifth place on the all-time list for Pakistan.  

The great Abdul Qadir currently occupies the spot, while another leg-spinner in Danish Kaneria sits third on 261. However, there is some way to go to catch the bowler on top; Wasim Akram finished his career with 414 wickets at a ridiculously impressive average of 23.62.  


KEY MATCH FACTS

- South Africa will be looking to avoid a fourth consecutive multi-game Test series loss away from home; it would be the first time the Proteas have lost as many such series in succession since losing each of their first seven in the format (July 1907 – February 1932).

- Pakistan won their most recent Test at Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium by an innings and 44 runs (against Bangladesh, February 2020). They will be aiming to secure back-to-back triumphs at the venue for the first time.

- Babar Azam has scored a century in each of his previous two Test innings in Rawalpindi; no player has more at the venue in the format (Saeed Anwar and Michael Slater also have two).

- Pakistan have dropped 13 catches in Tests so far this year, the most by any side and one of only two in double figures (India – 10).

- Kagiso Rabada has a bowling strike rate of 41.1 in Test cricket, the best by any player to take at least 150 wickets in the format.

- Faheem Ashraf finished with the best dot ball percentage (89.3 per cent) of any bowler in the first Test, though it was the first time he has failed to claim a wicket.

Graeme Smith has admitted Cricket South Africa (CSA) was left "extremely disappointed" with the decision taken by Australia to pull out of their upcoming tour.

A three-Test series was scheduled to take place in March, but Cricket Australia (CA) announced on Tuesday that those plans had been shelved due to the public health situation in South Africa amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The country was dealing with over 10,000 positive COVID-19 cases a day at the start of January and while that number has since dropped considerably, there is also a new variant of the virus.

However, having done all possible to appease safety concerns and establish protocols so the tour could take place as planned, CSA director of cricket Smith revealed the frustration at the late cancellation.

"We are extremely disappointed by the decision of CA," former Proteas captain Smith said. "CSA has been working tirelessly in recent weeks to ensure that we meet every single expectation of CA.

"This was set to be the longest tour in a BSE (bio-secure environment) comprising a three-match Test series that was scheduled to begin with Australia's arrival later in the month. So to be informed about the CA decision at the eleventh hour is frustrating."

Dr Shuaib Manjra, chief medical officer for CSA, explained how the organisation had done everything possible during the planning stage, including proposing protocols to their Australian counterparts that were "unprecedented".

The cancellation has ramifications for the inaugural ICC World Test Championship, too. New Zealand are now certain to be playing in the final later this year, where they will go up against either England, India or Australia.

Pholetsi Moseki, acting CEO for CSA, said: "It is indeed sad that after all the engagements and effort made to ensure a secure visit by our Australian counterparts, the tour has been derailed.

"CSA has incurred significant costs related to the planning stages and the cancellation of the tour represents a serious financial loss."

South Africa are currently on tour in Pakistan, with the second of two Tests set to start on Thursday in Rawalpindi.

They will also play a three-match Twenty20 series against their hosts - with all the white-ball fixtures to be staged in Lahore - before returning home in the middle of February.

Kagiso Rabada put his impressive achievement of reaching 200 Test wickets down to hard work but insisted the "show goes on" after becoming the third fastest South African to reach the milestone.  

The Proteas paceman claimed 3-70 in Pakistan’s first innings during the series opener in Karachi, with the last of those wickets seeing him get to the notable personal landmark in his international career.  

Hasan Ali was bowled to see Rabada make it to 200 on day three of his 44th Test outing; only Dale Steyn (39) and Allan Donald (42) have managed it in fewer appearances for South Africa.  

He is also the third quickest ever when it comes to deliveries bowled – Waqar Younis and Steyn sit above him on that list – having recorded nine five-wicket hauls and taken 10 in a match on four occasions.  

For Rabada, there remains the appetite within to keep on improving, worrying words for opposing batsmen around the world when you consider he is still just 25. 

"It's just hard work and spending a lot of time on your craft, seeing where you can get better," Rabada told the media about his success in the Test arena. "Analysing it, but not over-thinking it.  

"It hasn't all been easy – you find yourself trying to perfect something that might seem so simple, but it's constant repetition, hours and hours of work, so being relentless with that and trying to see how much better you can get and finding ways."

Asked about being in the same company as compatriot Steyn and Pakistan great Waqar when it comes to balls bowled, Rabada replied: "It's a massive feat to be included in a list of such names.  

"When you start playing you don't ever think that you'd be on such a list and have such statistics. All you want to do is the best that you can. 

"I'm really glad, it's satisfying; it's a great milestone, but the show goes on."

Rabada missed the chance to bring up his 200th wicket on home soil as he did not feature in the recent series against Sri Lanka in South Africa, the Proteas understandably taking no risks with their premier strike bowler upon his return from a groin injury.

It meant his appearance against Pakistan was his first in the format since the third match of the series against England, back in January 2020. 

"Test cricket never gets old, never gets any easier as well – you are constantly challenged," Rabada explained upon his return to duty for his country

"Playing in Pakistan as well, it's quite an amazing place. The only place that I haven't played previously, so I'm glad to have the opportunity to play here.  

"It's been hard work, just like any Test match, especially in the subcontinent where you have to be more patient. It teaches you a lot of lessons and I've been reminded of some of them."

Babar Azam will finally get the chance to lead Pakistan in Test cricket as a two-match series against South Africa begins in Karachi on Tuesday.  

Batsman Babar was appointed to the role last November, yet missed both Tests on the tour of New Zealand, as well as the Twenty20 series that followed, after suffering a fractured thumb during a practice session.  

Mohammad Rizwan took charge in the regular skipper’s absence, though he was unable to prevent Pakistan slipping to a 2-0 defeat against the Black Caps.  

The return of Babar on home soil is a boost, not least because he will bolster a batting line-up that struggled badly in New Zealand.  

Shan Masood has lost his place at the top of the order following a lack of runs, while the Pakistan selectors also left out Haris Sohail and Mohammad Abbas from an initial 20-man squad.  

Opener Imran Butt is set to make his Test debut at the National Stadium, a venue where the home team have lost only one of their last seven Tests, albeit that defeat did come against the Proteas, back in October 2007.  

Both Shadab Khan and Naseem Shah are missing due to injuries, while Abbas' absence from the bowling attack could lead to a recall for Hasan Ali.

As for South Africa, they have arrived fresh from a 2-0 series sweep over Sri Lanka. Quinton de Kock continues in charge, the wicketkeeper-batsman set to play in his 50th Test in the opener. 

The Proteas captain has Kagiso Rabada available again, bolstering a pace attack that performed so impressively against Sri Lanka without him. With Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi and Lutho Sipamla also vying to play, there are a wealth of options when it comes to seam bowling.

However, the balancing act for South Africa will come over whether to select two spinners. Tabraiz Shamsi is the likely option to come into the XI, joining forces with fellow slow bowler Keshav Maharaj. 
 

NO PLACE LIKE HOME 

His absence keenly felt in New Zealand, Babar will be determined to make up for lost time when he goes up against South Africa in his homeland. 

The stylish right-hander has scored 50 or more in each of his four Test innings in Pakistan, including three centuries. His batting average in the country (202.5) is the best by any player in Test history there. 
 

MILESTONES IN SIGHT FOR DE KOCK 

There is the potential for not one but two major milestones for De Kock, who had a relatively quiet series with the bat against Sri Lanka. 

The destructive left-hander is just 38 away from becoming the 16th player to score 3,000 Test runs for South Africa. He equalled his highest Test score (129) in his most recent innings against Pakistan two years ago, too. 


KEY MATCH FACTS

- South Africa have lost only one of their 10 multi-game Test series against Pakistan (W6, D3), that loss coming when they toured Pakistan in 2003 (1-0).

- Lutho Sipamla finished with a bowling strike-rate of 23.9 in the Proteas' most recent Test series (10 wickets against Sri Lanka), the best by any player. 

- Pakistan have lost only one of their last eight Test series on home soil (W5, D2), though that solitary setback came against South Africa (1-0 in October 2007).

- Mohammad Rizwan has scored 50+ in five of his previous six Test innings, having done so only once in his first 11 at the crease in the format.

- Faf du Plessis has faced Shaheen Afridi in three Test innings heading into this series, being dismissed by the Pakistan paceman on each occasion while scoring just 27 runs in response.

Agha Salman, Abdullah Shafique and Kamran Ghulam have been omitted from Pakistan's squad for the first Test against South Africa.

The trio were named in an initial squad of 20 for the opening Test in Karachi, which starts on Tuesday, but did not make the final cut.

With Shafique overlooked, Imran Butt looks set to be handed his debut his debut at the top of the order.

Pakistan were whitewashed 2-0 in their last Test series against New Zealand and are without a win in five matches in the longest format, but head coach Misbah-ul-Haq is optimistic they can turn the tide.

He said: "Understanding how poor we were in the field on our previous New Zealand tour, we have given fielding much importance while preparing [to play the Proteas].

"We are having extraordinary training sessions, with dedicated sessions to bring improvements. We are overall ready and looking forward to taking on South Africa."

Pakistan squad: Abid Ali , Imran Butt, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam (captain), Fawad Alam, Saud Shakeel, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Sarfraz Ahmed, Nauman Ali, Sajid Khan, Yasir Shah, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Tabish Khan.

Cricket South Africa (CSA) has no doubts that the Proteas' Test series with Australia will go ahead but accepts that may change due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Proteas and Australia were originally due to start a three-match series next month, but doubts were raised after England cut short a tour of South Africa.

Moving the matches to Perth was also talked of as an alternative if the series could not be staged in South Africa, but the Proteas have since faced Sri Lanka in two Tests on home soil.

CSA is confident South Africa will be able to host Tim Paine's side and, although no dates have been confirmed, it appears the plan is for the series to start early in March.

Zak Yacoob, the CSA interim board chairman, said in a virtual press conference on Thursday: "I had a chat with the chair of Cricket Australia [Earl Eddings] about a week ago and we agreed that the tour is going to go ahead.

"We agreed that we are going to ensure that our facilities are as good as possible, as good as necessary.

"We also agreed we learn every day but that is not on the basis that we did anything wrong when England was here because you know that none of the English were affected. That's the bottom line. They all flew back and that was fine.

"But the learning in relation to this virus changes all the time and as it changes things must change. We agreed that as professionals neither he [Eddings] nor I know anything about this.

"We have doctors, we have experts, who lead us through this process and what we have adopted is an approach that as long as the experts on both sides, true professionals in relation to coronavirus and health, agree that the facilities are fine, we go on the basis that the facilities are fine.

"So far there is between the chair of CA and myself no doubt that the series will go ahead, but we have agreed also that the coronavirus is so changing, that we cannot predict what will happen.

"If things suddenly go down for the worse and we really can't do it and our experts say we can't do it and the other experts say we can't do it, we won't be able to."

South Africa start a two-match Test series in Pakistan on January 26 and also play Three Twenty20 Internationals in their first tour of the country in 14 years.

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