JOHANNESBURG - Injury fears add to Pakistan worries combined with batting form as fast bowler Mohammad Abbas and spinner Shadab Khan continue to be in doubt for the first Test against South Africa. Abbas is nursing a shoulder issue while Shadab has a groin injury which could lead to them sitting out the three-day practice match against Cricket South Africa Invitation Xi starting tomorrow.

Opener Fakhar Zaman is also suffering from a knee problem, but he is expected to play the practice match. The players are currently in Benoni for the practice match. It is the only game for the tourists before the first of three Tests starts in Centurion on December 26.

The Tests will be followed by five one-day internationals in which both teams will be looking to settle on combinations ahead of the Cricket World Cup in England and Wales, starting on May 30. There will also be three T20 internationals — a format in which Pakistan top the international rankings.

Pakistan twice suffered fourth-innings batting collapses in losing a recent Test series against New Zealand in the United Arab Emirates.

Both captain Sarfraz Ahmed and coach Mickey Arthur acknowledged on arrival in South Africa that posting competitive totals was crucial if they are to match the hosts in what is shaping as a battle between two teams with strong bowling attacks.

With the warm-up match clashing with the resumption of South Africa’s four-day franchise competition, the Invitation XI is drawn from the country’s second-tier provincial competition. The opposition is unlikely to be especially challenging, but it is an opportunity for the Pakistanis to get used to local conditions at a ground just 60 kilometres (37 miles) from the venue for the first Test.

Arthur, who coached South Africa from 2005 until 2010, told journalists he believed his young batsmen will cope better with conditions in South Africa than the low, slow pitches of the UAE. “There are some very talented young batsmen there. They don’t stand on leg stump anymore. Our batsmen get to off stump, they cover the bounce, they cover the pace and they cover the swing.”

Even so, the Tests are likely to be a major challenge in a country where Pakistan have won only two Tests while losing nine on five tours.

South Africa’s bowling will be spearheaded by Kagiso Rabada and fit-again Dale Steyn, although the hosts will be without the retired Morne Morkel and Lungi Ngidi, who has a long-term injury. Vernon Philander is a serious doubt for the first Test because of a hairline fracture on his right thumb.

SQUAD: Sarfraz Ahmed (capt/wkt), Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Shan Masood, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Rizwan, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Yasir Shah.