Pakistan v SA
Proteas half-cook their ‘feast’
Jacques Kallis (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The last and only previous time South Africa played a Test match at Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Stadium, they promptly posted 584 runs in their first innings.LIVE UPDATES: Pakistan v SA
GALLERY: Amazing Amla!
On the latest occasion, the first Test against Pakistan which began on Monday, they may be lucky to reach half that tally despite the perception that they’re batting on a national road and ought to be flourishing far more after winning a good toss.
Yes, even 292 would be a decent outcome from where they are placed after day one, on 245 for eight although that incredible, eternally dominating and stabilising force Hashim Amla is still at the crease on 118.
Their performance carried many of the hallmarks of rustiness a lot of us feared it might, given that they last assembled as a Test outfit some eight months ago and do have a bit of a reputation for occasionally warming slowly to series at the best of times.
As SuperSport studio pundit and former SA wicketkeeper Mark Boucher noted at the close: "They should get more battle-hardened as the series goes on."
Given that this is another of those annoyingly flimsy two-Test ones, that phenomenon needs to come fairly smartly -- preferably even before they leave Abu Dhabi and round off hostilities in Dubai.
But it was still easy to understand what he was saying, particularly given that the legendarily unpredictable Pakistanis played with admirable purpose and discipline on the first day, so it is tempting to suspect a 'correction' is lurking just around the corner.
Graeme Smith’s team may also take a bit of heart from what happened in the last Test match at this rather soulless, sparse and mercilessly sun-baked place: Pakistan amassed only 257 themselves (perhaps roughly where SA may end up?) after taking first strike in a 2012 clash with England and yet won by 72 runs.
The Proteas’ famed attack hasn’t fired a bullet yet, and there are just enough hints in the dry surface – Mike Haysman made the point that day one seemed more like a day-two track – to suggest that bowlers of all shapes and sizes should not succumb to rank demoralisation at any stage over the next four days.
Even so, the visitors can be mightily grateful to Amla for providing around half the runs on his own so far: he survived two run-out scares early on in his typically even-paced and methodical innings and had he been bundled out in that fashion the situation might have been significantly more worrisome by stumps.
He became the fastest South African to reach his 20th Test ton, in his 122nd innings, eclipsing the previous record held by Smith.
The bearded accumulator just never seems to lose his touch to a pronounced degree, as evidenced by the fact that it is 18 knocks since he last posted a single-figure Test score – run out for nine at Headingley in August 2012.
He has also managed 50 or more runs in seven of his last nine turns at the crease in this format.
The Pakistanis haven’t dislodged Amla even once yet in this fixture, and he still has another opportunity in reserve, so he is just one reason for South Africans not to get unnecessarily defeatist in their thoughts right now.
Also worth mulling over is whether the 'home' side will have a strongly enough staffed bowling arsenal to complete the 20-wickets task: they only went in with four in the first place and one of them is an already slightly labouring Mohammad Irfan, the unnaturally tall left-arm quickie who does not have the best reputation in the world for durability in Test matches.
It is possible that someone like gnarly batsman Younis Khan may have to re-open his dubious 'all-rounder' credentials before the match has run its course, although just how excited the near-36-year-old feels about trundling some medium-pace wobblers in the continuous 34 deg C heat for stopgap purposes remains to be seen ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing