Not your typical dead rubber
South Africa 334/6 (De Villiers 98*, Amla 92, Philander 45*, Rahat Ali 3/95, Ehsan Adil 2/54)
An intriguing day’s play left the Test match well set up. It was a pity that it was a dead rubber but it did not play like one.
Even though South Africa managed a healthy scoring rate, Pakistan’s ability to take wickets when it was least expected helped to keep them in the game. A pair of fifties from AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla showed the step up in responsibility that was needed in Jacques Kallis, who pulled up lame with a calf strain. Amla’s contributions should have exceeded 100 but his play was nominally carefree and showed his and the team’s intent of getting on with the game despite the wickets.
If South Africa bowls as immaculately as they have done throughout the summer then a four-day game cannot be ruled out.
Among the flurry of boundaries there was steady accumulation that did not allow the visitors to settle. Graeme Smith’s choice to bat first may have confounded locals, as the SuperSport Park track often saves itself for the team that bats second. After Newlands and the Saeed Ajmal’s 10-wicket haul, the last thing Smith wants to subject himself to is a fourth-innings run chase. South Africa have won their last five matches here by an innings but that also opens up the opportunity of batting last if the follow-on is eclipsed.
There were debutants on each side with Dolphins’ seamer Kyle Abbott replacing Kallis and Ehsan Adil taking Umar Gul’s place. The Pakistani teenager, along with Rahat Ali, were expensive but were able to put the brakes through wickets.
Left-armer Rahat accounted for Amla, Alviro Petersen and Dean Elgar. Ehsan had the coveted scalp of Smith as his first test wicket only three balls into his career, and that of Faf du Plessis.
They weren’t, however, able to stem the flow of runs and their over rate took a knock, with only 85 of the stipulated 90 completed. Inexperience could have been a factor as even the tall Mohammad Irfan could not find any penetration and for a change Ajmal was rendered toothless. There was none of the sustained pressure Misbah-ul-Haq often asks for.
The belligerent batting courtesy of an unbeaten 86-run stand off 136 balls between De Villiers and Vernon Philander set up South Africa well. The stand was one of three 50-plus ones and the highest of the game. They will need to get through the new ball and wear down a weary but relentless Pakistan attack.