CENTURION – Chasing 149 for victory on Friday will not be easy for the Proteas against Pakistan at SuperSport Park.
No one has found batting easy in this match.
Babar Azam in Pakistan’s first innings and Temba Bavuma in South Africa’s first dig made it look that way briefly, although Bavuma admitted on Thursday evening after play that it felt like he could lose his wicket at any stage.
It’s still a pitch offering plenty for the fast bowlers, and the Pakistanis will relish bowling on it as they push for an early advantage in the series on the third day.
The Proteas got the first-innings lead they wanted thanks to Bavuma’s 12th Test half-century – a display of grit and style under pressure.
Bavuma specialises in this type of innings it seems – his career is dotted with knocks that have added value due to them being played when the side most need runs.
He arrived at the crease amidst a top-order collapse – three wickets fell for one run in 11 balls on Wednesday.
He played beautifully in the company first of Theunis de Bruyn and then nightwatchman Dale Steyn to provide the innings with stability.
Quinton de Kock added 45 runs on Thursday as South Africa grabbed a 42-run lead on the first innings after being bowled out for 223.
Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohamad Amir took four wickets apiece, both showing the pitch was still providing plenty of assistance to the seam bowlers.
Although Pakistan knocked off the deficit without damage in the wickets column, they rode their luck in doing so.
Imam ul-Haq was dropped on 15 by Amla at first slip – a simple chance – and went on to make 57 as Pakistan built a lead, with a number of runs coming off outside edges.
WICKET. South Africa are all out for 223 (60 ovs) after De Kock misses out on his half-century. He's caught by Zaman off Amir on 45 (53 balls) as South Africa head into lunch with a 42-run lead. #SAvPAK pic.twitter.com/PMNphM9frL— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) December 27, 2018
They reached tea in relative comfort at 100/1, but thereafter as has often been the case for them, the wheels fell off.
An incredible final session played out in which both sides went on the attack, but on this surface, it’s the bowlers which consistently emerge victorious.
Duanne Olivier showed that the magic touch he found once he decided on the first day to hammer the ball into the pitch was still with him.
And in his first two overs after the interval, he dismissed Imam (57) with a ball that ricocheted off the bottom edge on to the stumps, before another bouncer left Azhar Ali in a horrible tangle.
Those two wickets set the tone, and Kagiso Rabada returned for a fabulous spell at the West Lane End.
Bowling with terrific pace, he got the ball moving off the surface too.
Babar, skipper Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Amir fell in a whirlwind of Rabada fury as the good work of the Pakistani top-order, that included a gutsy knock of 65 from Shan Masood, was undone.
Standing ovation for @KagisoRabada25 who has taken 52 Test wickets in this calendar year alone & in only 10 matches! Amir is bowled out for 12. Take a bow, you BEAST! #ProteaFire pic.twitter.com/4q9hNVKp7K— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) December 27, 2018
Pakistan collapsed, losing nine wickets for 90 runs in the final session as they were dismissed for 190, a lead of 148.
These are worrying times for their captain Sarfraz, who arrived for this series with his leadership under scrutiny and his form with the bat poor.
Registering ‘a pair’ in this match will increase the volume around whether he is worth retaining for the Cape Town Test, and it will only be dialled down if he leads his side to win here.
Olivier already knows he’s unlikely to play the New Year’s Test, despite finishing this match with a ‘10-for’.
Vernon Philander, whose place Olivier took here, is expected to return after suffering a hairline fracture of his thumb, in keeping with the team’s policy.
However, Olivier’s efforts here won’t soon be forgotten.
He has bowled with lots of aggression, and his final match analysis of 29-6-96-11 is a tribute to the hard work he has put into his bowling in the last 18 months.
What a day! So many wickets and so much excitement. South Africa need 149 runs to win tomorrow. We can't wait to see who steps up for the #ProteaFire.— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) December 27, 2018
Catch tomorrow's play at 10:00 live on SuperSport 2, SABC 3 & Radio 2000. #SAvPAK pic.twitter.com/FB5QIEb6yH