No fairy-tale for the birthday boy

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IOL graeme smith feb 2

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Graeme Smith during day 1 of the 1st Test match between South Africa and Pakistan at Wanderers. Photo: Lee Warren

First Test, Day 1:

South Africa 253 all out

Pakistan 6/0

 

The Wanderers - With all due respect to New Zealand, this feels more like a “Test”. The Kiwis were bullied into submission in two matches at the coast. On the Highveld, Pakistan are proving to be much tougher opposition for the world’s No1 team.

But that was always likely to be the case. Their armoury – certainly their bowling – is more potent and as shown by Mohammed Hafeez in the evening, more varied. They’re a confident bunch too, stemming from a record that has seen them lose just once in their last 13 Tests.

They certainly didn’t mind having a bowl yesterday and while there were a few wayward offerings initially, theirs was largely efficient performance with the ball.

Somewhat surprisingly, they omitted the giant and much-hyped Mohammed Irfan, instead giving Rahat Ali, who wasn’t part of the original touring party and only arrived in the country on Monday, a debut cap. Ali was poor, nerves perhaps got the better of him in his first spell, but he never really settled in the afternoon either.

However, Pakistan didn’t need him. In Junaid Khan they have a young left-arm quick bowler who doesn’t need conditions to be as helpful as they were for bowling yesterday. There was swing and he also got the ball to seam around on a surface that had a fair covering of grass. Smith admitted upon deciding to bat that he was probably going to make life difficult for himself, and so it proved.

South Africa could never get on top of the Pakistanis. Smith and Alviro Petersen worked extremely hard – and had some moments of good fortune – to survive the first hour. Junaid beat the outside edge of both openers’ bats and when he brought it back into them there were a few close shouts for lbw.

His efforts deserved reward, but he had to wait until the second hour of play to get it when he squared up Petersen and found the edge with Hafeez taking an easy catch at third slip.

There was no fairy-tale for Smith on this momentous day. The South African captain looked scratchy, wafting nervously at the first two balls of the match, and generally looking all at sea against Junaid. After changing his bat 20 minutes into the morning, he seemed to settle, and he and Petersen, cleverly grabbed short singles.

In fact, Smith got out just as he was starting to grasp the conditions playing a poor drive at Gul that he edged to the impressive wicketkeeper, Sarfraz Ahmed.

South Africa’s best period of play came in the first hour after lunch when Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla attacked against Rahat and Saeed Ajmal. They shared a partnership of 79, which included Kallis going to the 58th half century of his illustrious career. Kallis played aggressively with some gorgeous flicks through the leg-side while his driving through the covers was stylish.

Amla had been watchful initially, but took on Ajmal in an intriguing battle which brought back memories of him nullifying Graeme Swann at The Oval last year.

Kallis’ dismissal came as a surprise, such was the control he was showing as he top-edged a pull off Gul that saw Asad Shafiq taking an excellent catch running around from square leg to deep midwicket.

Six overs later Amla was out too, falling surprisingly to the part-time medium pace of Younis Khan, slashing a cut to gully, where Azhar Ali grasped a sharp chance.

Pakistan sniffed their opportunity and kept the pressure on the South Africans via Junaid and Ajmal, who slowed the scoring rate, before Hafeez prospered against the lower-order.

South Africa’s batsmen will bemoan some poor decision-making especially Amla and Kallis, who gave their wickets away just as they were taking charge of the game.

Faf du Plessis was lucky to get 41 – he should have been dismissed 20 runs earlier but third umpire Steve Davis, missed a feint edge.

However, Pakistan deserve plenty of praise for a performance of high quality that the South Africans clearly weren’t accustomed to after the soft touch that was New Zealand.

They took their time to gain a foothold, but once Junaid and Gul had sorted out their lengths, they decisively grabbed the initiative for the tourists.

The Star


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