When Graeme Smith won the toss and inserted Pakistan on the first day of the second Test, thoughts of bowling out the opposition for 49 in the previous Test would surely have lingered.
The South African skipper most probably urged the players in the pre-match huddle to visualize a similar performance. And for the first hour or so at least that vision looked set to materialize. Pakistan were floored by another display of brilliant new ball display by the best seam attack in the world. At 33-4 after only 17 overs my twitter timeline was full of hysterical predictions of a 3 day finish. Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq then showed great resolve to deny the home side the satisfaction of another batting collapse.
Pakistan play so little Test cricket these days in comparison with other major Test playing nations that it's easy to forget the abundance of talent casually available at their disposal. Talent that's often wasted due to a plethora of reasons, but its there none the less. Whilst Younis Khan's century came as no surprise to long serving observers, Shafiq's century easily ranks as his career best. Understandably shaky earlier on with the pitch and the bowlers respectively carrying a certain amount of venom, he settled in and played remarkably well. In fact the pair made Test history by recording the highest ever partnership (219) against the South Africans, a fantastic achievement . An achievement made doubly significant as it came against the best Proteas bowling attack ever. By the time the fifth wicket eventually did fall around stumps, Pakistan had passed the 250 mark and built a decent foundation to if nothing else avoid another crushing defeat.
Pakistan's target on day 2 should be to reach the 350 mark at least given they have five wickets in hand. A lot of the responsibility thus falls on the young-ish shoulders of Shafiq. Signs of frustration by the South African bowlers towards the end of day one were understandable but Dale Steyn's verbal spat with Younis Khan could prove to be a quiet but pivotal moment in the game. An incident that may well have hit the nerve in the relatively young and closely knit dressing room where fatherly respect for senior players is inbuilt. It remains to be seen if they succeed or not but its certain Sarfaraz Ahmad and Asad Shafiq will bat with added determination ready to take a few blows for the cause.
From a South African point of view despite the big partnership that stalled their bowling steam train, the late breakthrough was nothing but crucial. It could so easily have been even better if the a close run out chance had been taken late on. A nervous Sarfraz Ahmad had wafted at a few away swingers from Steyn, raging in with new ball, before wrongly deciding to take a non existent run only to scamper a U-turn and just make it back in time. With Philander, Steyn and Morkel fed,watered and rested Smith will be looking to wrap up the remaining five wickets in quick time. The home side will be lookign to take the positives out of day one, namely the fact that the Pakistan tail is partially exposed and there for the taking early on day two. The ease with which Khan and Shafiq played once the ball had aged must also be encouraging for the South African batters looking forward to putting another size-able score on the board.
In any case it promises to be another great day of Test cricket especially for Pakistan fans for whom as I mentioned before Test matches are a rare sight.
Predictions for day two
A tall order? Yes, but Pakistan will desperately be looking to grind out another 100 runs for the last five wickets to reach 350. That might be a step too far and depends on how long Shafiq remians at the crease but the tourists should be happy to reach 300 (which would still be a great recovery after that stumbling start at 33-4)
Ajmal might not be as effective on a good batting wicket, but it would be foolish not to predict some form of success for the best off spinenr in world cricket. But Test debutant Mohammad Irfan could prove to be crucial in a 3 man pace attack for Pakistan. Bowling 90mph+ from a height that exceeds Morkel, if he gets it right it could be a dangerous proposition for the Saffers batting line up. It would also make for a great story of a man who only 4 years ago was working in a factory and had no intentions of playing cricket professionally.
Kallis and Amla as always will be the crucial wickets for the Pakistanis. Amla will be looking to add to his only century scored against Pakistan back in November 2010 in Dubai. Kallis on the other hand has only made one of his 6 centuries against Pakistan on home turf, namely Durban back in 2002. In that particular game his century helped his side romp home to a famous 10 wicket triumph. I wouldn't bet against him scoring one here.
image: © mashfiq13