PAKISTAN TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA, 2018-19
The Pakistan pacers ran riot in the final session. © Getty
Ask an expert what makes a successful Test side and they would talk about two characteristics. Resilience and unrelenting determination.
Test matches are like wars. They are to be won over battles. Of course, the battles here being the sessions. More often than not, a side can find itself behind in the game. If that side is Pakistan, and that also on an away tour, it would happen a lot to it. But, it would be unfair to pick on them. After all, it happens to the best ones too. But, what makes those best sides stand apart is how they pounce on the slenderest of the opportunities and make the most of them.
The series, which Pakistan surrendered to the hosts in a span of six days, so far has been a gross mismatch between the two sides. And after being off to the most unpropitious of the beginnings with the toss going against them on what turned out to be the most suitable batting surface in this series, they had to make sure that they grasp those opportunities when they presented themselves.
Until now, they had botched up many of them over the past two Tests. The most infamous of them when they lost their last nine wickets for 89 runs in the second innings at Centurion. But, at Johannesburg, Pakistan, on the first day, scripted a different story.
By Tea, with 223 runs on the board at the loss of three wickets, the hosts continued dominating yet another day of the tour. What made it more impressive was how their most inexperienced batsmen – one of which was a debutant and the other who doesn’t even average 20 at this level – stitched an impressive partnership while the opposition bowlers toiled for wickets. Such was the haplessness that Asad Shafiq was called on to bowl at fag end of the afternoon session despite having five specialist bowlers at disposal.
But the situation turned over its head in the final session.
With the ball beginning to reverse, there came an opportunity. And, to say that Pakistan made the most of it would be an understatement after how they ripped apart the South African lineup, taking their last seven wickets for 33 runs in just 90 minutes.
Bowling the first over after the break, Mohammad Abbas had foretold the story. He troubled Zubayr Hamza and Theunis de Bruyn in the first five deliveries as he nipped the ball back into the two. The two had their chances. On the very second ball, Hamza was dropped by Sarfraz Ahmed after a scorching good length delivery took an inside edge of his bat. Two balls later, de Bruyn survived an LBW call as the ball thud his knee roll after beating his inside edge.
There’s the thing with these world-class bowlers. They cannot even accommodate the thought of allowing the batsmen, who have been given reprieve of their bowling, to hang around. And, they hate it when they beg the umpire for a LBW decision knowing it’s theirs but only for the ‘umpire’s call’ to take it away from them.
While he implored Joel Wilson to declare de Bruyn out, Abbas might’ve known that the ball is clipping the bails. He might have known that it is clean enough to be given in his favour. But when he was turned down, Abbas returned in the next over and delivered a similar delivery. This time, he perfected it a little by pushing the length forward. This one was so dead that even de Bruyn knew as soon as it thud on his front pad after missing the inside edge. He did not even look at Hamza and walked off.
In his bid to regain the lost momentum, Temba Bavuma, a rather in-form Temba Bavuma, punched Abbas for two boundaries in four balls. It all looked good for South Africa again. After all, this has been their modus operandi throughout the day. Whether it was to break the shackles after Dean Elgar’s dismissal early on or to up the scoring rate towards the end of the afternoon session, South African batsman had hit boundaries in a flurry. And, it had worked for them. By the end of the second session, 70 percent of their runs had come off boundaries.
But, before this turned into another substantial resistance and pushed Pakistan back, Mohammad Amir, after an exceptional display of reverse swing which had oohs and aahs as he tailed away, in the very next over made Bavuma edge the ball into Sarfraz’s gloves. Twenty minutes later, his bumper would curtail the debutant’s stay at the wicket denying him a fifty in his first Test innings by nine runs. The collapse had officially begun!
Perhaps, it could have begun much earlier had Pakistan remained disciplined and bowled tight lines. “Our first two sessions did not go well. I think we did not bowl well,” Amir remarked. “We had made a plan to bowl wicket to wicket during tea to control the run rate and get wickets and it helped us in being successful.”
What made it sweeter for Pakistan was their other two pacers sharing the remaining four wickets. With Amir’s legs starting to cramp after tripping over in his follow through, Sarfraz introduced the pair of Hasan Ali and Faheem Ashraf back into the attack. Hasan – who gave only three runs for two wickets in this five-over spell after leaking runs at six an over in his first 12 overs – removed Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn across across six balls. Faheem’s impeccable lengths rewarded him with Quinton de Kock’s brainfade moment and a consolation Duanne Olivier wicket.
No side at the Wanderers have won a Test after posting a score of 261 to 313 in the first innings of the match. The stat augurs well for Pakistan. But, the dismissals of Shan Masood, their most successful batsman in the series, and ever-struggling Azhar Ali off Vernon Philander’s bowling towards the end of the day saw South Africa claw back in the session.
Had the two wickets not fallen, Pakistan would have ended the day in a commanding position which would have been the first of the tour.
But…they don’t do that there.