Pakistan’s tour of South Africa was expected to be a shock to the system for Sarfraz Ahmed’s team. After suffering ‘home’ series defeats to Sri Lanka and New Zealand over the previous season, the South Asian side were always going to have a tough time in the rainbow nation. Just how tough was not known.
The first Test defied expectations with Pakistan well-placed in their second innings at 101-1 and looking good to set a target of 250 before imploding to 190 all out and a target of 149. The South Africans were let off the hook and there was no turning back from there.
In the Cape Town Test, the Proteas unleashed a four-man pace attack with three of them – Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier and Dale Steyn – unrelenting with their pace and short-pitched bowling. The sight of Steyn bowling over 140kph at the age of 35 even in his third and fourth spells showed just how much of an uphill battle the Pakistan batsmen faced.
They failed in the New Year’s Test as well. Yes, Pakistan almost scored 300 in the second innings but there was an element of luck to it as tailenders slogged and connected.
As Sarfraz and Mickey Arthur sift through the wreckage of the Test tour, they can afford a smile when looking at the performances of two batsmen – Shan Masood and Babar Azam.
Masood was not even supposed to be here. He was a late replacement in the first Test – 90 minutes before start of play in fact – after Haris Sohail injured his knee. Padding up at such short notice, Masood got better and better with each passing innings and has received widespread praise from commentators Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Smith for his technique and composure.
Pietersen is a fan of the amount of time Masood has while facing the most fearsome pace attack in the world, while Smith made it a point to meet the Pakistan batsman and tell him he is doing an excellent job. For a batsman who was not even on the radar, it has been a meteoric rise. Scores of 19, 65, 44, 61 in a series where his team’s batting has collapsed is truly remarkable.
Then we have Babar, the future of Pakistan batting. In both Tests, the talented middle order batsman came up with crucial knocks when the pressure was truly on. In the Centurion Test, it was his 71 in the first essay that took Pakistan to a respectable 181 that made a match out of it. And in the second innings in Cape Town, his 72 from just 87 balls is one of the most audacious innings you will see in the face of imminent defeat.
These two talented and technically gifted batsmen have shown the path that Pakistan’s cricket needs to take. It is obvious there are technically proficient batsmen in Pakistan’s domestic cricket and they only need to be given an opportunity at the right time. They may not be a Virat Kohli but you don’t need to be one to succeed in Test cricket.
Now that the Pakistan management has witnessed the success of Masood in the most hostile of environments, they can breathe easy knowing that the batting pool is not dry and that they only need to cast their net far and wide while also rewarding consistent performers – like Fawad Alam.
Pakistan are still hamstrung by underwhelming bowlers Mohammad Amir and Yasir Shah while the batting form of Fakhar Zaman and Sarfraz is not much to write home about. Going forward, getting team selections right – like having all-rounder Faheem Ashraf in seaming conditions – and taking players from first-class cricket to the Test arena will ensure the Test machine moves along slowly but smoothly.
Pakistan‘s batsmen rallied to avoid an innings defeat but South Africa will need just 41 runs on the fourth day of the second Test in Cape Town to wrap up a 2-0 series win.
A century stand between Asad Shafiq and Shan Masood and a dogged 72 from Babar Azam enabled the tourists to reach a respectable 294 in their second innings.
It might have been wrapped up with two days to spare but for some farcical scenes in the closing overs of the day.
With a lead of only 25 and the prospect of an extra half-hour to produce a finish, Vernon Philander looked to have finished off the innings when Mohammad Abbas slogged a length ball to mid-off.
But, with the players already sprinting from the field, replays showed that Philander had overstepped and the batsman earned a reprieve.
That was the cue for an over of mayhem from Shaheen Afridi, who mowed 12 vital runs off Dale Steyn, including a top-edged four, a straight six, a dropped catch and a hit on the helmet.
By the time Afridi’s innings was eventually ended to give Kasigo Rabada his fourth wicket of the innings, the moment had passed and the umpires decided to end play for the day.
South Africa, already 1-0 up, had earlier taken their overnight score of 382-6 to 431 and move into a comfortable position.
Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur slammed the standard pitches in South Africa after second day’s play in the Newlands Test on Friday.
The visitors are staring down the barrel in the New Year’s Test, already 205 runs behind after being dismissed for 177 in the first innings.
Arthur said batting in South Africa has become a lottery.
“I’m a little bit disappointed to be honest. I haven’t been back to South Africa in a cricketing capacity since 2010. The standard of the wicket we had at Centurion and the wicket here (Cape Town) I think hasn’t been good enough for Test cricket‚” said Arthur‚ who coached South Africa from 2006 to 2010.
Arthur said he was not in favour of home teams ‘tailoring’ conditions to such a degree.
“When South Africa play a team from the subcontinent you are always going ask for a bit of bounce and pace. I think both wickets have been weighted in favour of the bowlers. Obviously it is home ground advantage and that is right. We get the ball to turn in the UAE.
“I think it is inconsistent (bounce). I think there were seven stoppages for balls that hit cracks. And we are talking about day two and I would understand if it was days four and five. Pitches shouldn’t make your first innings a lottery.”