CENTURION: Hashim Amla returned to form with an unbeaten half-century to anchor a shaky chase and see South Africa prevail by six wickets against Pakistan inside three days in the first Test at SuperSport Park on Friday.
Chasing a modest 149 to win in testing batting conditions, Amla and opener Dean Elgar survived some early scares and put on 119 for the second wicket before the left-handed Elgar was caught behind off occasional medium-pacer Shan Masood for 50, one ball after reaching his half-century.
Amla finished a year in which the elegant right-hander seldom find top form by making 63 not out to rediscover his form with just a second half-century in his last 14 innings.
The value of the partnership between Elgar and Amla as Pakistan’s seamers created immense pressure on a wicket that showed both sideways movement and variable bounce was shown as Theunis de Bruyn and captain Faf du Plessis both fell cheaply before Temba Bavuma swept Yasir Shah for four to take South Africa past their target of 149 shortly before tea on the third day.
Both captains, Du Plessis and Pakistan’s Sarfraz Ahmed, made ‘pairs’ by being dismissed without scoring in both innings.
Pakistan made an ideal start when Hasan Ali trapped Aiden Markram leg before wicket before a run had been scored.
Hasan and Mohammad Amir did not concede a run off the bat until Amla clipped Hasan for four in the sixth over.
There were two crucial incidents with the total on 16, either of which could have swung the game in Pakistan’s favour.
Amla, on eight, was dropped by Fakhar Zaman at third slip off Hasan when he slashed hard at the ball, which flew at chest height to the fielder. In the next over, Elgar, on four, edged new bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi low to first slip where Azhar Ali appeared to take a diving catch.
On-field umpires Bruce Oxenford of Australia and India’s Sundaram Ravi conferred before referring to television umpire Joel Wilson with a ‘soft’ signal of out, indicating they thought it was a clean catch.
Elgar, in fact, began walking towards the dressing room, but was called back when the on-field umpires conferred over whether the catch had been taken.
Holding convinced Elgar was out early
After looking at several replays, including super-slow close-ups, Wilson ruled the ball had bounced and Elgar was reprieved.
With only the two-dimensional images available, the West Indian decided there was enough doubt to change the decision. It was a potentially a game-changing moment in the innings with South Africa on 16-1 at the time.
The decision clearly astonished the Pakistan players and coach Mickey Arthur was seen leaving his place on the players’ balcony and going to the adjacent office of match referee David Boon.
Television commentator Michael Holding criticised his fellow West Indian Wilson.
“I’m convinced he was out,” said Holding. “I think the third umpire made a mistake. The protocol says you have got to be 100 percent sure the decision was wrong to change it.”
In a similar situation, Indian captain Virat Kohli was given out in the recent second Test against Australia in Perth when television umpire Nigel Llong from England found no conclusive evidence to overturn a ‘soft’ signal from the on-field umpires.
Elgar and Amla survived some testing bowling from the Pakistan seamers and gradually began to lift the scoring rate on a pitch which favoured bowlers throughout.
Temba Bavuma was 13 not out to take South Africa over the line with Amla.
South Africa’s nervous run-chase the Elgar-Amla century partnership apart came at the end of a seesaw match that ended well inside three days and which was dominated by pace bowlers on a green-tinged pitch. Both batting orders struggled.
Pakistan were out for 181 in their first innings, and South Africa replied with 223 all out. Pakistan were then bowled out for 190 in the second innings to leave the modest target.
The game turned in the final session of Day 2 when Pakistan returned from tea 100-1 but went on to lose nine wickets for 89 runs.
South African fast bowler Duanne Olivier was named man of the match for his match return of 11-96.
“It was a good Test match and a good one to win in terms of the series,” South Africa captain Faf du Plessis said at the post-match presentation. “We needed a bit of luck on a wicket like this one. It was challenging, the first two hours was proper Test cricket.
“The Pakistan bowlers were bowling really well and we felt like we were going nowhere. But I’m really chuffed for Hashim, he looked like he was moving nicely and that is always a good sign.”
Sarfraz focussed on his side’s poor batting, where they failed to pass 200 in either innings and lost their last nine wickets for 90 runs after tea on day two, as the major contributor to their defeat.
“We are very disappointed in the batting, we had an opportunity to post a [bigger] target and we lost too many wickets in that session after tea,” he said. “We have good quality fast bowlers, but we have to put scores on the board. We will have to go away and work hard in the nets.”
The second Test begins in Cape Town on Jan 3.
PAKISTAN (1st Innings) 181 (Babar Azam 71; D. Olivier 6-37, K. Rabada 3-59).
SOUTH AFRICA (1st Innings) 223 (T. Bavuma 53, Q. de Kock 45; Mohammad Amir 4-62, Shaheen Shah Afridi 4-64).
PAKISTAN (2nd Innings) 190 (Shan Masood 65, Imam-ul-Haq 57; D. Olivier 5-59, K. Rabada 3-47).
SOUTH AFRICA (2nd Innings): D. Elgar c Sarfraz b Shan 50
A.K. Markram lbw b Hasan 0
H.M. Amla not out 63
T.B.M. de Bruyn st Sarfraz b Yasir 10
F. du Plessis c Hasan b Shaheen 0
T. Bavuma not out 13
EXTRAS (B-4, LB-5, W-6) 15
TOTAL (for four wkts, 50.4 overs) 151
FALL OF WKTS: 1-0, 2-119, 3-136, 4-137. BOWLING: Mohammad Amir 12-5-24-0; Hasan Ali 13-6-39-1; Shaheen Shah Afridi 15-1-53-1 (2w); Yasir Shah 7.4-1-20-1; Shan Masood 3-1-6-1. RESULT: South Africa won by six wickets to lead three-match series 1-0. UMPIRES: B.N.J. Oxenford (Australia) and S. Ravi (India). TV UMPIRE: J.S. Wilson (West Indies). MATCH REFEREE: D.C. Boon (Australia). MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Duanne Olivier. SECOND TEST: Jan 3-7, Cape Town. THIRD TEST: Jan 11-15, Johannesburg.
Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2018