South Africa v Pakistan 1st Test Day 1 - Determined Pakistan raise their game at Centurion
The crowd, at Centurion Park, was treated to a thrilling day’s Test cricket on Day 1 of the opening encounter between South Africa and Pakistan.
Pakistan 181 (Babar Azam 71; Duanne Olivier 6-37, Kagiso Rabada 3-59)
South Africa 127 - 5 (36.0 overs) – (Temba Bavuma 38*; Mohammad Amir 2-26, Shaheen Afridi 2-36)
At the Close - South Africa trail Pakistan by 54 runs with 5 wickets remaining
By stumps the home side had regained some control with its score reaching 127 – 5 in reply to Pakistan’s 181 all out. Bowlers of both sides were rewarded for their efforts despite 308 runs scored in 83 overs of cricket. The loss of 7 overs due to light drizzle and bad light, denied the crowd of a bit more drama.
By opting to bat first, Sarfraz Ahmed had challenged his top order to survive against a fiery South African attack, on a fresh wicket. He was utterly disappointed to see his batsmen throw away the advantage on a wicket that was by no means unplayable. Dale Steyn’s only wicket that of Fakhar Zaman, edged him past Shaun Pollock’s 421 Test wickets. Now 35 and having spent 41 agonising months to go from wicket 400 to a national record of 422, South Africa’s greatest wicket-taker, received a standing ovation from everyone at the ground, including Pollock, now employed in the media. Fiercely competitive and hungry for more success, Steyn has been a great match winner for his country and has inspired an entire generation of pacemen all around the world.
As is so often the case with the Pakistan batting line-up, it stood up well against the threat of Steyn and Kagiso Rabada, only to succumb to an unknown pace man, Duanne Olivier, only playing due to Vernon Philander’s absence through a finger injury. The tall fast medium bowler, bowled superbly in two spells, not lacking in hostility either. Consistently crossing the 140kmh barrier, he softened up the batsman with short balls before inducing edges with fuller length. His career-best 6-37 off 14 overs included Azhar Ali, courtesy of a blinder at 3rd slip by Theunis de Bruyn to end a gritty 36 in 103 minutes’ stay by the tourists’ senior most batsman.
Captain Sarfraz himself walked in with his side in serious trouble at 86-5 and walked out with a fourth ball duck. The strain of captaincy clearly has had a negative impact on his batting and he is a mere shadow of himself as a confident number 7 batsman. Pakistan’s woeful Test record of late has not helped matters and the present series could well see him say farewell to five-day cricket. He no longer has the confidence to deliver in the five-day format.
When all seemed lost with Pakistan heading for another embarrassing low first innings total, Babar Azam, stepped up to play a mature role. Perhaps the most talented batsman in the country, he today cemented his place in the Test line-up with a classy 71. In a 79-ball innings he pulled, cut and drove with authority and twice hit four 4’s in an over of Steyn. Whilst looking calm he also showed willingness to dominate the strike, which in his short career, previously, he had not done so. His 67-run stand for the 9th wicket with Hasan Ali, who contributed 21 not out off 28 balls, allowed Pakistan to post a fighting total. The fight and courage shown by the two players was set to have a positive impact on the bowlers. And it did.
Pakistan pacemen did not waste the new ball and Mohammad Amir, having taken a blow on his right hand during his brief innings, in particular kept things very tight. After Hasan made the first breakthrough, Amir and Shaheen Afridi were into the act to shake the South African batting and reduce them to 43-4 in the 15th over. Shaheen had dismissed Dean Elgar and captain Faf du Plessis in two balls to bring his side, back in the game. The 5th wicket stand worth 69 runs between du Bruyn (29) and Temba Bavuma (38 not out) steadied the ship before the pair was separated by Amir.
The match is evenly poised after an exciting first day but Pakistan management will be wary of having given away 50 runs in the last 10 overs as they aim to dismiss the home side below 200 on a wicket that has offered pace, bounce, seam movement.
South Africa - Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis(c), Theunis de Bruyn, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock(wk), Keshav Maharaj, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier
Pakistan - Imam ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Sarfraz Ahmed(c)(wk), Mohammad Amir, Yasir Shah, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi
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