RAWALPINDI: A cluster of second-innings wickets left Pakistan battling for survival against a resurgent South Africa on an engrossing day three of the second and final Test at the Pindi Cricket Stadium here on Saturday.
Earlier, Hasan Ali superb bowling had given Pakistan a crucial lead of 71 runs on the first innings. The pacer grabbed his Test career’s second five-for as South Africa folded up for 201, while adding just 95 runs to their overnight total of 106-4.
When stumps were pulled out for the day, Pakistan had pushed themselves against the wall after losing six wickets for 129 runs with a mixture of ultra-defensive approach to begin and late flourish. However, with an overall lead of 200 as of now, the hosts would still be feeling confident in view of the deteriorating state of the playing surface, and if they find another 50-70 runs on Sunday, South Africa will be put to a severe test in their second innings. The pace at which the final encounter of this two-match rubber had unwrapped suggests the pitch has gradually become a minefield where the batsmen have never been in the comfort zone.
The rain-curtailed first day saw Pakistan claw back after losing three early wickets before day two had just provided just a solitary batsman — the hardworking Faheem Ashraf, who was left high and dry on a resourceful 78 — understanding the requisites of adjusting to the surface, while 11 wickets stumbled for 233 runs from 85 overs when play ended due to fading light at 5:21pm.
When the entertainment on day three also came to a somewhat premature halt at precisely the same time — 5:21 — for bad light, a dozen wickets went down for a combined tally of 224 runs in 79 overs.
Hosts in strong position on a deteriorating pitch
Moreover, it was amazing that none of the remaining South Africa wickets were claimed by either of the two Pakistan’s trump-cards — Nauman Ali and the much experienced Yasir Shah — while Hasan cleaned up Linde, Maharaj and Anrich Nortje to add to his Friday’s brace and Shaheen Shah Afridi forcing Quinto de Kock to play onto his leg stump.
The other two wickets — those of Wiaan Mulder and Kagiso Rabada — were contributed by poor running between the wickets. Hasan reckoned during the post--day’s virtual presser that the behaviour of the Pindi pitch had been unpredictable all through the three days and it had been helping the seamers to get reverse swing.
“It is quite a different pitch here and one that not going to improve in terms of becoming easier for the batsmen to feel comfortable,” Hasan remarked. “It is a bit up-and-down kind of a surface and as we have found it, sometimes the ball had crept low and there been occasions the it ball abruptly rose. Whatever the case, I feel that Pakistan shouldn’t feel under the pump because batting fourth on that pitch will be require lot of courage from them [South Africa].”
The testing conditions were surely going to put Pakistan through a torrid examination of their skills — or lack of it in some cases — in combating the South African pace-cum-spin attack.
Tragically, the same old story was repeated as both Imran Butt and Abid Ali for the umpteenth again underachieved. Following stands of 5 and 22 at Karachi last week and 21 in the first innings here, their latest partnership lasted a grand total of 25 deliveries when poor Imran (36 from four knocks in his debut series) was extremely unfortunate to get entangled by Rabada as the delivery jagged back to catch him in front of the stumps.
After his fairy-tale entry into Test cricket a little under 14 months ago, Abid has hit the rock-bottom as far as his progression in international cricket matters. On Saturday, he spent 72 minutes but his pedestrian style of batting completely bogged him down. A 53-ball 13 contributed to his demise, caught trying to sweep Keshav Maharaj.
Babar Azam has serious issues in relation to his game against the slow left-armers. And for the third time in this series, Maharaj outfoxed the Pakistan captain with a ball that held its line while Babar played for the turn, and for the third time Aleem Dar had to declare him leg-before-wicket.
South Africa’s biggest scalp was Fawad Alam, who was one of three key wickets for George Linde, who thankfully has recovered from a horrific finger injury on Friday’s opening day.
Linde sounded optimistic when he told reporters that South Africa will be happy enough to chasing around 275-300 in the last innings.
“Whatever happens from now, our objective is to win this one and draw the series. The pitch is definitely not easy to bat on but I still think South Africa are in with a definite chance,” Linde, who has snared figures of 3-=12 in nine overs, asserted. “It won’t be that easy but we’ll not give up.”
Earlier in the day, Temba Bavuma was left stranded on a fighting 44 in an uncharacteristic 224-ball innings from 138 balls as South Africa were dismissed half an hour after lunch.
One major concern for Pakistan was Yasir Shah going wicket-less in 12 overs and the mortification of being smashed for two sixes — one apiece by Mulder and Linde — the first of the match.
PAKISTAN (1st Innings) 272 (Faheem Ashraf 78 not out, Babar Azam 77, Fawad Alam 45; A. Nortje 5-56, K.A. Maharaj 3-90)
SOUTH AFRICA (1st Innings, overnight 106-4):
D. Elgar c Rizwan b Hasan 15
A.K. Markram c Shaheen b Nauman 32
H.E. van der Dussen b Hasan 0
F. du Plessis c Rizwan b Faheem 17
T. Bavuma not out 44
Q. de Kock b Shaheen 29
P.W.A. Mulder run out 33
G.F. Linde b Hasan 21
K.A. Maharaj b Hasan 1
K. Rabada run out 0
A, Nortje b Hasan 0
EXTRAS (NB-9) 9
TOTAL (all out, 65.4 overs) 201
FALL OF WKTS: 1-26 (Elgar), 2-26 (van der Dussen), 3-55 (du Plessis), 4-81 (Markram), 5-114 (de Kock), 6-164 (Mulder), 7-186 (Linde), 8-192 (Maharaj), 9-201 (Rabada), 10-201 (Nortje)
BOWLING: Shaheen Shah Afridi 13-2-37-1 (3nb); Hasan Ali 15.4-2-54-5 (6nb); Faheem Ashraf 8-2-20-1; Nauman Ali
17-8-36-1; Yasir Shah 12-2-54-0
PAKISTAN (2nd Innings):
Imran Butt lbw b Rabada 0
Abid Alic de Kock b Maharaj 13
Azhar Ali lbw b Linde 33
Babar Azam lbw b Maharaj 8
Fawad Alam c Markram b Linde 13
Mohammad Rizwan not out 28
Faheem Ashraf c Nortje b Linde 29
Hasan Ali not out 0
EXTRAS (B-4, NB-2) 6
TOTAL (for six wkts, 51 overs) 129
FALL OF WKTS: 1-0 (Imran), 2-28 (Abid), 3-45 (Babar), 4-63 (Azhar), 5-76 (Fawad), 6-128 (Faheem)
BOWLING (to-date): Rabada 7-3-4-1; Nortje 8-5-24-0; Maharaj 21-3-74-2; Mulder 6-1-11-0 (2nb); Linde 9-5-12-3
Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2021