Life's a pitch for the Proteas in Rawalpindi
Day 1 of 5: Pakistan 145/3 (Babar Azam 77*. K. Maharaj 2/51)
The great mystery of Rawalpindi. How would that pitch at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium play?
It was not, as every local pointed out, the normal Rawalpindi-type pitch. Usually there’s grass and usually it assists the seamers.
The pitch for the second Test was devoid of grass, and with the exception of the first hour on Thursday it also didn’t assist the seamers. Quinton de Kock, who’s future as Test captain will be decided as part of the post-tour review, but whom Mark Boucher wants to relieve of the burdency of captaincy, was - in his role as wicket-keeper - catching the new ball around his ankles in the first hour.
Wasim Akram at the pitch report said the surface was hard and that there was some moisture, what he didn’t say nor could have forecast was just how slow it was. Initially it also assisted spin, as South Africa found out immediately upon bringing on Keshav Maharaj, in the eighth over.
He turned the first one so much it shocked Abid Ali, who edged the ball - but it also shocked Temba Bavuma, who dropped the simple chance at slip, not a position he usually fields for the spinner.
Nevertheless there was help for Maharaj and he took advantage, snaring two wickets by the time he’d finished his fourth over.
“The new-ish ball sort of sticks in the wicket, because of the moisture,” Maharaj said afterwards.
Anrich Nortje thumped one into the pitch, causing Abid discomfort with Aiden Markram taking a magnificent catch at short leg. And that was all she wrote as far as wickets were concerned on day one. “As the day went on and the moisture seeped away from the surface, the turn minimised substantially,” Maharaj remarked.
The swing that was there for Kagiso Rabada early on also disappeared and reverse swing played little role on the sluggish surface, with most of the day’s play taking place in very cool conditions
Babar Azam was masterful however. The Rawalpindi pitch may differ from what’s usually there, but Babar loves the ground. He made two centuries there last season against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh respectively, and was barely troubled on day one.
His defence was rock solid, his driving through the covers and down the ground elegant while he also unleashed a couple of cracking pull strokes when the South African quicks tried to force something out of the pitch.
Maharaj, who came into the match with what he described as a “strain” in his abdominal area, ended up bowling more overs than he would probably have anticipated. Boucher was certainly concerned about him, saying on the eve of the match that Maharaj would have to inform the coaching staff on Thursday morning whether he felt comfortable enough to play. “I was really concerned,” said the left arm spinner. “(The pain) is still there, but thanks to the medical staff I was able to get on the field.” He bowled 25 overs, nearly half the number delivered by South Africa on a first day curtailed by rain.
It’s unlikely he’d have gotten that many overs had George Linde not copped a ferocious blow on his bowling hand trying to stop a drive from Babar in the first session. Linde had blood oozing from his damaged left pinkie as he sprinted off the field. X-rays showed no fracture, but the plaster and guard he’s now wearing on his left hand made gripping the ball awkward.
Maharaj was hopeful that Linde would be able to provide some assistance on Friday. What they’d both like - as would the rest of the Proteas attack - is some more help from the pitch too, but it still retains a bit of mystery.
“With moisture around it might bind it again (on Friday)...I think, if we get in a full day’s play that we’ll have a clearer idea by the end of the (second) day if the wicket will deteriorate.”
Given that Pakistan have retained their two spinners Nauman Ali and Yasir Shah, who claimed 14 wickets between them in Karachi last week, South Africa will desperately hope that deterioration doesn’t happen too soon.