CAPE TOWN – Sometime on Sunday, possibly early in the morning, South Africa will win the second Test against Pakistan.
Victory at Newlands will extend their winning sequence to seven consecutive home series conquests, and the records will show that they have also won 18 of their past 20 Tests in Mzansi.
The fact that the Proteas need to come back and score the 41 runs required on Sunday is partially due to a comical last hour on Saturday, and the defiance of three top-order half-centuries from Shan Masood (61), Asad Shafiq (88) and Babar Azam (72).
After showing neither the wit nor the will to play their way out of trouble in their previous three innings on this tour, Pakistan’s batsmen dug deep to keep a rampant home attack at bay.
It certainly was required after Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada had once again reduced the visitors to 16/2, which was light years away from making the home side bat again after the Proteas had earlier taken a 254-run first-innings lead.
But Masood, who has been one of the tourists’ rare positives on this tour, and the experienced Shafiq batted with grit, resolve and no little flair to push onwards to a 132-run stand for Pakistan’s third wicket.
It was also Pakistan’s first three-figure partnership of the series.
South Africa, though, knew that they only needed one breakthrough, and they could climb into the Pakistan middle- and lower-order.
The fact that it was Steyn (4/85) that engineered it was extra special, for the veteran fast bowler still prides himself on being captain Faf du Plessis’ “go-to-man”.
“Masood batted well and Shafiq batted well. I felt today was a toiling day. It wouldn’t be Test cricket if it was easy. We showed resilience. We know if we show resilience, the floodgates will open. That’s what happened today,” Proteas spearhead Rabada (4/61) said.
A little nibble from Masood to Quinton de Kock behind the stumps and South Africa were ready to complete their conquest within three days again.
This looked even more likely when Fakhar Zaman hauled out a horrific pull shot against Rabada that reduced Pakistan to 201/5 – a deficit of 53 runs, with only five wickets remaining.
However, Pakistan’s lower-order were intent to show their coach Mickey Arthur that they could counter not only the hostile Proteas bowling attack, but also the pitch he berated just a day earlier.
At the forefront of this resistance was Azam as he rallied towards a second half-century of the series, and together with some wayward bowling towards the back-end of the elongated afternoon session from particularly Duanne Olivier, the visitors managed to eke out a lead.
There were opportunities for South Africa to close out the innings earlier when Rabada spilled a regulation catch, and even more importantly Vernon Philander overstepped the front crease with Pakistan leading by only 24 runs.
This would have left the hosts enough time to chase down the target, but with the players already off the field, they were hauled back to complete the innings, allowing the visitors to add a further 16 runs.
WICKET. This time there's no mistake, the last wicket has fallen. Afridi is gone for 14, caught by Philander off Rabada. PAK are all out for 294 & SA will need 41 runs to win. More news from the stadium, the umpires have called stumps. ENTRANCE FOR DAY 4 IS FREE. #SAvPAK pic.twitter.com/eZ8r0MiLvE— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) January 5, 2019
This ensured that the second Test will indeed enjoy a fourth day, regardless of how short it may eventually turn out to be.
“Nothing like that has ever happened before. We were in a rush, Dale was bowling from a short run-up and that dramatic no-ball, and all of that to happen and then we decide not to go bat,” Rabada added.
“It was up to the coach and captain. Trying to score 41 runs in five overs wasn’t worth it. So we will rather come back.”@ZaahierAdams