Evening – South Africa 72 for 4
Pakistan tightened the screws on an improbable Test victory over South Africa on the third afternoon of the first Test in Abu Dhabi, taking four wickets to reduce South Africa to 72 for four. That left the visitors 121 runs behind, with two full days to bat out.
Having been finally dismissed just after tea for 442, Pakistan’s combination of pace and spin began to dismantle South Africa’s top order for the second time in the Test. Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen had actually begun well in the face of an imposing 193-run deficit.
The pair, and Smith in particular, were positive from the off. Petersen pulled Mohammad Irfan and, as is his wont, Smith worked almost everything away through the leg-side. One on-drive off Irfan was especially emphatic. But Irfan has been impressive through this Test, and having troubled Petersen with one short ball, he got another to rise, take the glove and land safely in Adnan Akmal’s gloves.
Smith kept up the pace, the fifty coming up in just the 14th over and when he punched Junaid Khan wide of mid-on, his reputation as a second-innings champion was looming large. But the decisive moment came in the next over.
Saeed Ajmal had begun his work from the fourth over of the innings and had troubled Smith. Smith danced down the pitch, was beaten by the turn and Akmal, despite a fumble, completed the stumping. That broke the innings open. Birthday boy Jacques Kallis was trapped leg-before for a duck by Junaid in the very next over. And in the last over of the day came the really big one.
Zulfiqar Babar had not bowled till then. On he came and with his first ball dismissed Hashim Amla, caught behind off a beautiful, turning delivery. That dotted the ‘i’ and crossed the ‘t’ on another impressive, scarcely believable day for Pakistan.
Afternoon – Pakistan 429 for 8
Finally, five sessions into Pakistan’s innings South Africa began to claw their way back into the batting, taking three wickets. But by then, with Misbah-ul-Haq to the fore with with a fourth Test hundred, Pakistan had moved into a formidable 180-run lead.
South Africa had an early gift six overs after lunch, when Asad Shafiq chipped JP Duminy straight to midwicket; it was a flat end to what was becoming an imperious little knock that would have done much to justify his retention in the Test side. The 84-run stand with Misbah, though, had done its bit.
Thereafter all attention was on Misbah and his search for a first Test hundred since May 2011, after 16 century-less Tests. Given the significance of the landmark and a new partner, Pakistan’s rate understandably slowed down. An excellent spell from Morne Morkel compounded matters.
But not for the first time in Misbah’s career, caution and patience paid off. Three overs after drinks, he swept JP Duminy twice to move to 99. A single in the same over to midwicket took him to 100 and an unusually demonstrative celebration, indicative perhaps of the pressures he constantly bats under. The 39-year-old became the oldest Pakistani to make a Test hundred and the oldest player to do so since Graham Gooch hit one in 1994 as a 40-year-old.
The relief led to a lapse in concentration and two balls later he was gone, leg-before to give Dale Steyn his first wicket of the Test in his 24th over. Some fun and games followed, with Saeed Ajmal and Adnan Akmal picking up useful boundaries: the pick was a stinging drive wide of mid-off by Akmal, off Vernon Philander.
Further inroads were claimed by the visitors. Philander, who has bowled better than many might have expected on an unhelpful surface, sent back Ajmal and on the stroke of tea, debutante Zulfiqar Babar was run-out from Steyn’s direct hit.
South Africa are wired to save Tests from positions such as this, but doing so from a lead that might near 200, against a good attack will take some serious doing.
Morning – Pakistan 352 for 4
This might be the decisive session of this Test. At close of play last night, despite Pakistan looking in such a strong position, matters were, as Shan Masood conceded, a little more even. A couple of quick wickets to the new ball this morning, into the tail and boom: a big lead becomes a manageable one for South Africa.
When Khurram Manzoor slashed to slip in the sixth over of the morning, South Africa had half a chance. But Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq swiftly began to shut that out, a 62-run partnership taking Pakistan to 352 for four. The lead, at 103, is beginning to look dangerous for South Africa.
Manzoor started as if he meant business, driving Dale Steyn through covers and even taking an all-run four off Vernon Philander through wide mid-on. But he fell immediately after, for 146, the highest by any Pakistani batsman against South Africa.
Shafiq, under pressure, took time to settle, carefully negotiating his way through an early test. But he bats well with Misbah and soon the captain’s calm began to kick into Shafiq. A couple of sparring shots for two runs gave way to a hoick to the midwicket boundary off Robin Peterson.
When he then drove Jacques Kallis through covers on one knee, he was in; two overs later, off Morne Morkel, he showed off a ferocious slapped cut and an authoritative pull. One run later, almost unnoticed, came up a a fifty partnership, the pair’s ninth in 18 innings together.
Misbah had reached yet another fifty early on and fairly grooved his way through the rest of the session. He opened the face of his bat to the fast bowlers regularly, scoring through third man to debilitating effect. And the attack begun yesterday on Peterson continued as South Africa were pushed further behind the eight-ball.