Abu Dhabi: It’s been nearly two years since South Africa lost a Test match, and as several of their opponents have found out, one or two exceptional individual performances aren’t sufficient to topple them. Pakistan know that, and nearly everybody in the team has contributed in the first three days to put them in a position to upset the world’s No. 1 ranked team.
Misbah-ul-Haq and Saeed Ajmal, the lynchpins of the batting and bowling respectively, both delivered but unlike other occasions, they had a large supporting cast. Khurram Manzoor went on to make the highest Test score by a Pakistan batsman against South Africa, Asad Shafiq shrugged off his indifferent recent form to make a vital half-century, Mohammad Irfan’s unsettling bounce made the openers’ life difficult, Junaid Khan ruined Jacques Kallis’ birthday by dismissing him for a duck, and the debutant Zulfiqar Babar struck the biggest blow of the day with his first delivery, getting rid of the super-consistent Hashim Amla late in the day.
All of which combined to leave South Africa tottering at 72 for 4, still needing 121 to make Pakistan bat again on a track that had seemed docile but was causing serious headaches when Pakistan were bowling.
There was a clear ploy to bowl short to Alviro Petersen, who loves playing the pull. Irfan kept banging it in, with two men in the deep on the leg side, and in the 11th over, he had Petersen gloving a catch to the keeper. The other opener, Graeme Smith, was edgy early on against pace and spin, but just as it seemed he was settling in, he was drawn out by a flighted Saeed Ajmal delivery and though Adnan Akmal fumbled the ball, there was time to have Smith stumped for the first time in his 111-Test career.
In the next over itself, Junaid angled one in towards middle stump, Kallis missed it and the umpire had one of the easiest lbw decisions to make. It got worse for South Africa as in the final over of the day, Babar spun the ball away to get the outside edge and Akmal pouched the chance. Pakistan’s ascendancy was highlighted by the five fielders around the bat as the day came to a close.
Though the ball seemed to be performing tricks when Pakistan bowled, the pitch seemed docile when South Africa were bowling. One of cricket’s hoary clichés is about how the first hour of the day’s play is crucial, and it seemed particularly true this morning when the new ball gave South Africa their best chance of making breakthroughs. The quicks bowled better lengths than on Tuesday, but they only had the wicket of Manzoor to show in the first session as Pakistan continued to dominate.
Misbah began the day with some deft glides towards the third-man boundary, and continued to use the sweeps efficiently against the spinners. The previous 25 times when Misbah reached 50 in international cricket, he didn’t go on to reach triple figures. In Abu Dhabi, though, he didn’t miss out, and the usually impassive Misbah was beaming as he celebrated his first international hundred since May 2011.
The fast bowlers tied down Pakistan in the opening hour, but Misbah remained steadfast as ever, and Shafiq provided solid support. Both players were more expansive towards the end of the morning session, when the shine had worn off the ball and South Africa turned to Robin Peterson and Kallis.
Misbah had some close calls after lunch, a couple of inside-edges which could have easily rolled on to the stumps and a loud caught-behind appeal that was turned down but he persevered to reach triple figures. He fell two deliveries after completing his century, becoming Dale Steyn’s first victim of the innings.
Shafiq, a late addition to Pakistan’s Test squad, underlined why he should be in the side with a vital innings, especially given how long the Pakistan tail is. He showed off how strong he is hitting in the arc between cover and point; a stylishly driven four off Kallis prompted a short ball which was pulled away for four more, earning Shafiq a pat on the back from Misbah. He gave it away with a soft dismissal on 54, chipping a half-volley on the pads to short midwicket.
Still, there was no quick end to the innings as Akmal made 32 to inflate the lead to nearly 200. The batting, so often the cause of Pakistan’s poor showings in recent times, had done their job, and the bowlers backed that up to leave Pakistan dreaming of another famous win in the UAE. And this after losing their last Test against Zimbabwe.
South Africa 249 and 72 for 4 (Smith 32) trail Pakistan 442 (Manzoor 146, Misbah 100, Shafiq 54) by 121 runs