Pakistan in SA

Proteas show No 1 qualities

2013-02-16 22:22
Dale Steyn (Gallo)
Cape Town – If they can keep their wits about them, something that doesn’t always happen, Pakistan will know that they remain in a slightly more advantageous position in the enthralling second Test against South Africa at Newlands.

But what the Proteas did manage to do on Saturday’s middle day of the encounter was arguably draw the sides closer again than had been the case the previous evening, when they seemed rather closer to a staring-down-the-barrel situation.

Their defiance was glowing confirmation of why they are the No 1-ranked team on the planet at present; an ability to scrap through adversity is clearly as much ingrained in the culture of Graeme Smith’s class of 2012/13 as their more customary penchant for dominance.

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VIDEO: South Africa v Pakistan 2nd Test day 3

They will know as much as the rest of us do that further special attributes will be required if they are at least not to lose the Test, which pleasingly saw a crowd of some 15 000 pass through day three’s gates and the likelihood of another strong turnout for Sunday.

The Pakistanis command a lead of 112 with seven second-innings wickets in hand, and South Africa impeded in their quest to keep the tourists to a manageable total by further hamstring problems to one of their trio of renowned strike bowlers, Morne Morkel.

He broke down for a second time in the match at the start of only his fourth over on Saturday, which would seem to suggest it seriously unlikely that he will be hunky-dory for further bowling input in the match.

Already there have been whispers in the media centre that some Newlands gurus believe chasing anything above 150 in the fourth knock could be a tough ask for South Africa.

If that is to prove the case, then Pakistan are ominously close to teeing that up as the target, aren’t they?

Personally, I have not yet seen sufficiently pronounced signs of pitch decay to suggest that 250 would be Mission Impossible -- again a reminder that this fixture involves the tried-and-trusted, premier Test team on the block.

The bounce remains relatively true, the carry seems fine, and the turn is not yet genuinely spiteful.

Granted, all that could begin to change in a significant way on Sunday, expected to be the hottest day of the Test at more than 30 deg C, so any breakup of the surface should only gather handy momentum for the tourists, 1-0 down in the three-match series.

Often enough, though, hype around deterioration of the wicket at this ground turns out to be not much more than that.

Recent history also suggests that teams batting last can occupy the Newlands crease for chunky periods: India basically blocked out 82 overs, for the loss of only three wickets, to draw a 2010/11 Test and ensure a share of the series, whilst England also clung on for a stalemate in 2009/10 after surviving all of 141 overs and ending on 296 for nine.

Remember also that just last season – even if it is true it was an eventful three-day Test match -- the Proteas romped to a victory target of 236 against Australia, with centuries from Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla and eight wickets in hand at the finish.

Speaking of Smith, the man is a renowned second-innings battler, with the extra little motivation here of the game being his 100th as Proteas captain, whilst eternal local favourite Jacques Kallis was wronged in dismissal in the first innings and may have a healthy sort of axe to grind the second time around.

And if anyone believes South Africa are a corpse waiting to happen in this match, they would also have to concede that a pulse remains very much present.

Particularly in what was left of their initially wobbly old first innings on Saturday, they bristled with intent and a thrillingly positive spirit, smacking the Pakistani bowlers around to the tune of 187 for the last five wickets in 42.1 overs, at a rate of well above four to the over.

Proteas teams of the not too distant past would have been infinitely more cautious and perhaps even cowed ... not this bunch, led especially by the smoking blades of Robin Peterson and AB de Villiers.

Peterson was the real revelation of the day, finally re-affirming his potential as a really capable No 8 batsman.

In rattling up his best score at this level of 84 in his 11th Test, the left-hander dabbed, paddled, swept and drove with enormous ferocity: I noted in a tweet towards the end of his enterprising stay that at times he looked like one of the great lefties for certainty of stroke-play and shot selection!

There was a gambler’s spirit to South Africa’s approach ... and it deservedly paid off.

A lingering question remains, however: will it be shown to have been enough?

Answer, perhaps, on Monday ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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