WITH problems persisting with their frontline batting and also in the lower order, it was important for Pakistan to make the right call when deciding to bat or bowl first. Pakistan made their choice, whether right or wrong, to take the strike and then found themselves struggling against the pace and bounce of a first-day pitch which visibly had a tinge of green.
With Imam-ul-Haq leading the exit as early as the second over, the procession continued till almost near the end of the second session as South African pacemen Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier dismantled them.
Steyn had Fakhar Zaman caught in the slips to become the highest Test wicket-taker for his country, overtaking Shaun Pollock’s 421, a record which remained intact for the last 10 years.
Pakistan, having lost their last Test in three days here about five years ago, should have known the nature of the Centurion track and their own strengths and weaknesses and let the home side face the music first. Frankly, I would have preferred to field first here to be on the safe side.
Unfortunately, not much to write home about Pakistan’s fragile batting, except for a superbly controlled innings of 71 from Babar Azam who did look the part. His success was mainly due to his own judgment of measuring up the line, length and bounce of the pitch to bat out serenely whether driving through the covers or pulling or hooking.
When one is up against a fiery bunch of fast bowlers with menacing intentions, it is important to keep your cool, remain unruffled and select the bad balls to hit to keep the scoreboard moving.
In letter and spirit, however, Pakistan did show their ability with the ball and played themselves back in the game by picking up four quick wickets.
Playing in foreign conditions has never been easy for any team, let alone Pakistan which blows hot and cold. They deliver when others don’t expect them and fail when well in sight of victory. We have experienced all that over the years and the nature of their style of play that seldom change.
The first Test of any series is vital to set the tone for the rest of the matches, not only for the home team but also for the visitors.
The South African batting is also not much of a powerhouse lately as we have found out when they toured Sri Lanka and lost the series there.
I have a feeling that the Pakistan bowlers may pull the game back in their yard if they bowl on the right spots to keep South Africa back in their track. Temba Bavuma, a compact-looking batsman with a wide range of strokes in his repertoire, is one who can pose problems though.
But he also knows the danger that lurks round the corner when leg-spinner Yasir Shah unwinds himself on this pitch which could be as helpful for the spinners like Yasir as it was on the first day when Steyn and company bowled Pakistan batting into submission.
Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2018