Were South Africa brilliant or did Pakistan balls it up? While the hosts showed signs of brilliance at Newlands one would have to say that they were let off the hook by some very mediocre passages in play by Pakistan. Even after allowing Robin Petersen at number 8 to somehow score 84 runs the visitors had a 12-run lead and at 114 for three were well on their way to posting a very difficult fourth-innings target. When the next six wickets – some of them very silly ones – fell for 22 runs, they had blown it.
South Africa were set a below-par 182 for victory and chased up the runs in 43 overs with four wickets in hand. Hashim Amla (58, 96b, 7×4) top-scored for the Proteas as Saeed Ajmal (4/51) almost threatened to spoil the party.
The victory sealed South Africa’s sixth consecutive Test series win on the trot and extended their unbeaten run to 14 consecutive matches. South Africa stand head-and-shoulders above the pack at the top of the ICC rankings but their vulnerability to Pakistan’s dangerous spinner, Saeed Ajmal, proved they can be beaten – indeed they jolly nearly were.
Smith conceded that his batting order remained flummoxed by the world’s best off-spinner, who took ten wickets in the match. “It can be guesswork at times. He bowls a quick pace and delayed action makes it difficult to use your feet. The toughest part is to pick which way the ball is going. And he is very consistent and a lands a lot of balls in the right areas.”
The opposition captain Mibah ul-Haq agreed, “He is a world-class bowler and he proved that today against a top quality side by taking ten wickets against South Africa in South Africa. They know he can cause problems for them.”
While South Africa may have been tested for the first time this summer, the Test still ended with a full day to spare. Pakistan are unlikely to be given as realistic an opportunity of a win at the Centurion Test that begins this weekend on the Highveld, where they have traditionally struggled with pace and bounce. Having said that South Africa’s record in dead rubbers is average at best and one wouldn’t be surprised by a consolation victory on a wicket that isn’t as fast as it used to be and offers turn and bounce for spinners later in the match.
“We lost the Test series but we know we are playing against the No.1 team in the world in their own conditions and we will try to put a better showing there,” Misbah said. “We want to stick to the basics and spend time at the crease. There was a little bit of panic today at the time when Peterson was bowling. We can’t do that. Experience makes a big difference in this kind of game. You need to have experience to develop.”
As Cricinfo’s Firdose Moonda points out, the West Indies went 29 series without defeat in their heyday, while Australia managed 16. South Africa are on 12 not out. I guess you could say they are within striking distance of greatness.
Misbah: “Improved performance especially the batting. It was Peterson who took the advantage from us. If we had set 250 target that would have been tricky on this wicket. Credit to the South African bowlers today, we could not score fully. The pressure created leads to wickets. Ajmal always puts us in commanding situations.
Smith: “It was a tough Test. The conditions reminded me of the subcontinent. Ajmal’s not the No.1 bowler for no reason. It’s a quality bunch of guys. We were hoping to strike with the second new ball but Vernon struck for us. We turned it around in our first innings. Robbie’s 84 really contributed well for us.”
The Man of the Match is Robin Peterson: “I’m pleased we got over the line. All week the coaching staff had been hammering it to me to play with more positive intent. Everyone did their part, even though we missed Morne. I’ve said it before that Ajmal is a genius. To take those wickets and not get the Man of the Match must be disappointing for him.”
“Decent old Test match this one. The sort they call proper cricket.” That’s how our Spin colleague Lizzy Amon summed up this Test on Twitter as the sun started to fade behind Table Mountain on day three at Newlands. South Africa may have won the first two sessions as they recovered from an overnight 136/5 to get to 326 all out, just twelve runs shy of Pakistan’s first innings total. Pakistan then stumbled to 7/2 and then 45/3 as it appeared most likely that would once again find themselves on the receiving end of a hiding. But captain Misbah ul-Haq (36, 81b, 2×4, 3×6) and Azhar Ali (45, 134b, 6×4) added an unbeaten 55 for the third wicket to see this Test mach set the stage for a very exciting final two days.
Pakistan lead by 112 runs and have seven wickets in hand in a very evenly poised game as they go about setting a fourth innings target on a pitch that is playing well but will no doubt offer assistance to their key weapon of Saeed Ajmal who took six wickets in the first innings.
Robin Petersen (84, 106b, 15X4) was South Africa’s unlikely hero with the bat as he made his highest Test score. Six of his last eight innings in all forms of cricket have ended without him scoring a run. Petersen played within himself as his initial job was to keep company with AB de Villiers (61, 113b, 7×4) but when the SA ‘keeper was out to the giant Mohammad Irfan, Petersen took I upon himself to ensure that his side would not concede a significant deficit. It was most entertaining when the 7 ft 1 Irfan celebrated his wicket and put his hands up for the rest of his team to “high ten” but the smaller guys in the side had to jump up to reach them There is a wonderful spirit in this Pakistan team – it is very hard for the neutral not to want them to do well.
After the Pakistani openers were dismissed for ducks and Younus Khan managed only 14, Ali and Misbah put Pakistan back in the game and the likely result of this match is now very delicately balanced. If Pakistan can bat past tea it is very hard for South Africa to win but if they are out soon after lunch then you would expect the hosts to chase what they are set. South Africa will be happy to draw the match and maintain their 1-0 lead whereas a draw is no good for Pakistan in this three-match series.
Tomorrow promises to be another absolutely splendid day at the finest cricket ground there is.
Post-mach press conference
“I enjoy batting at Newlands and last night I had a good chat to a few people about how to play Saeed Ajmal and my tactics sounded a bit risky to most of the guys.
It’s proper Test cricket now.
I tried to get used to the pace of the wicket and once you spend some time out there it feels quite easy.
Ajmal is a genius when it comes to spin bowling – he bowls up to four completely different deliveries in one over.
Morne is a huge loss because of his bounce on this type of surface but it’s a challenge that we have to deal with and someone will step up to the plate.
I think it’s very evenly poised at the moment. You don’t want to be chasing over 300 here but I’d like to think that we can get 250 or so.”
“Pakistan bowling coach: Mohammed Akram
“Test cricket was at its best today. We knew South Africa are a top side and would bounce back. We expect that from the number one side.
When the first Test finished all we discussed was deleting the game from our system and being positive about playing gracefully and successfully.
It was disappointing not to get a good lead but it’s very important that we are in a fairly good position.
When I talk to Irfan the only words that come out of his mouth are: ‘I love bowling’.”
We have yearned for some attritional Test cricket in South Africa and now we finally have it as South Africa find themselves in all kinds of trouble at 139/5, 199 runs behind Pakistan’s first innings tally of 338. It couldn’t have been a more interesting day of cricket as South Africa find themselves in a tight spot for the first time since they fought back hard in Adelaide some months ago.
Pakistan resumed the day on 253/5 and in their typically unpredictable fashion they collapsed to 268/8 before a 64-run partnership between Tanvir Ahmed (44, 59b, 4×4) and Saeed Ajmal (21*, 65b, 3×4) took them to a respectable score. 33/4 then 252/4 then 268/8 then 338 all out – all in four sessions work for the mercurial side. When Philander took a wicket in each of his first three overs of the day to claim yet another five-fer at Newlands it seemed that the visitor’s 219 runs for the fifth wicket was some kind of inexplicably freak event and that they would still be skittled out for well under 300 runs. But Tanvir and Ajmal’s partnership frustrated the South African attack and gave the visitors some momentum going into the second innings.
Ajmal picked up with the ball where he left off with the bat as he took three quick wickets to rock South Africa’s progress. Smith, Petersen and Amla fell prey to his guile as he twice used the review system to successfully overturn marginal LBW decisions that had been given not out by the not-up-to-scratch umpire Steve Davis. 84/3 shouldn’t have been too much of a jolt for such a successful Proteas’ side but when you are used to winning every Test in three days then finding yourself on the back foot can come as one heck of a shock.
Faf du Plessis was promoted a place up the order when the decision was made to give Jacques Kallis a little more time with his feet up as he was tired from bowling 20 overs without a wicket. Kallis strode to the crease and the Newlands faithful cheered him on in full belief that he would restore order but that wasn’t to be the case as Steve Davis made yet another terrible decision when he was convinced by some brilliant appealing that Kallis was caught at forward-short-leg. Knowing that his bat was nowhere near the ball Kallis reviewed the decision immediately and indeed Hotspot proved him right but then the hawk-eye thingamajig showed that the ball would have just clipped the leg stump. Despite Davis being made to look like a tit yet again, the decision was then upheld, even though it was OFC for a dismissal for which Pakistan did not appeal and Davis did not give him out. An angry Kallis walked back to the pavilion, LBW for 2.
Faf du Plessis (28, 83b, 4×4, 0×6) had looked solid but was also out to Ajmal as the spinner claimed his fifth of the five wickets that fell for 109 runs. South Africa were in all kinds of trouble, especially considering they won the toss and had Pakistan on the ropes at 33/4 yesterday morning. Dean Elgar (11*, 46b) and AB de Villiers (24, 66b, 2×4) managed an unbeaten 34-run partnership to give the home side hope of getting out of this fix.
In a Lazurus like recovery, Pakistan avoided a St. Valantine’s Day massacre and recovered from a precarious 33/4 to a very respectable 253/5 at stumps on day one at Newlands. Younus Khan (111, 226b, 7×3, 3×6) and Asad Shafiq (111*, 229b, 14×4, 1×6) fought for survival as they navigated their way through the dangerous new ball and then wrestled full control of the day as they defended and attacked with aplomb, drained the energy from the Proteas’ attack and amassed a partnership of 219, the highest by a visiting side to these shores since 2006. The partnership represented a most unexpected turnaround just as fans were getting used to watching South Africa bowl their opposition out for under 50 runs.
South Africa won the toss and elected to field and in Graeme Smith’s 100th Test as the Proteas’ skipper he elected to field first on a pitch that looked very good for batting. There had been a little unseasonal rain overnight and touch of cloud led Smith to believe that it might just do enough early on to justify putting the opposition in. His boldness was vindicated as Philander, Morkel and Steyn wrecked through the Pakistan top order but the hosts then bowled 67 overs in vain as Younus and Shafiq overhauled the odds and put their team in the driving seat before Vernon Philander dismissed Younus caught behind to expose Pakistan’s inexperienced ‘keeper two overs before stumps. With Umar Gul in next to bat, it is clear that Pakistan have only a long and vulnerable tail after this partnership is up.
South Africa will rue Dean Elgar’s dropped catch of Asad Shafiq when the batsman was on just 24 runs. It was a sharp catch at forward-short-leg off the bowling of Robin Petersen, who incidentally had an awful day with the ball. Hashim Amla would likely have snaffled it but his entrenched seniority in the side has meant that he is no longer asked to field in that treacherous position. As the local Cape-based journalist Altus Momberg pointed out at the time, the only two senior players ever to field in the position were Amla who was too polite to ask not to, and David Boon who was too unfit to field anywhere else.
The groundsman Evan Flint was surprised by Smith’s decision to bowl first on a pitch that was designed to do exactly the opposite of how it behaved at the last two Newlands tests, which were over in three days. The hot and dry conditions that are forecast over the next few days could well mean that Paksitan’s spinners will enjoy bowling on day five. Not that we have seen five day game in SA this summer.
9000 of the local faithful turned out today and the ground is sold out for day three but there are tickets available for tomorrow. Get involved.