Pakistan v SA
Proteas’ scrappers sought!
Robin Peterson and Hashim Amla (AFP)
Cape Town - One of the qualities to have got South Africa to undisputed No 1 in the Test rankings is the team’s ability to pull themselves out of situations of deep peril ... often quite dramatically.
Such a hapless status hasn’t quite been reached yet after day two of the first Test against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, although the 'host' nation have a golden opportunity to really turn the screws and amass a formidable first-knock lead.
Undoubtedly theirs are the better shoes to be in, 14 runs to the good going into the game’s middle day and with seven wickets in hand.
If Pakistan manage to bank a lead of anything between 150 and 200 runs before the Proteas bat again, you have to suspect there can only be one winner at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium and that team is not Graeme Smith’s.
The clash could yet have some dramatic twists and turns, of course, if there is a flurry of wickets in the first session on Wednesday, and particularly if South Africa can quickly dislodge – in a carbon copy of what happened to Hashim Amla on Tuesday – the previous day’s gritty century-maker, Khurram Manzoor.
One thing about this Pakistan batting line-up is that it is not especially impressive on paper in the lower order: likely No 6 Asad Shafiq has not gone past 19 runs in his last seven Test innings, wicketkeeper Adnan Akmal averages 27, and then it is pretty much into the bowlers.
And for all their woes on Tuesday, the one thing the Proteas did was to suddenly produce some superb, pressure-building cricket – led by their three main pacemen Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morné Morkel -- for the first part of the final session until they ran out of steam again to some extent in the enduring heat.
It met with approval from former captain and all-rounder legend Shaun Pollock, who said in the SuperSport studio afterwards: "We are so used to having teams two or three down quickly, and are instead a bit up against it ... (but) I was impressed with the courage and tenacity in that last session."
Also to keep in mind is that even if the Pakistanis do go on to a massive first-innings total, many of the current SA troops are well familiar with heroic rearguard efforts to save Test matches, especially when they are the first ones of series coming off significant layoffs – like this one is.
Just last year when the Proteas visited Australia in early-season, they were on the back foot in each of the first two Tests at Brisbane and Adelaide – the monumental 110 not out in 466 minutes by Faf du Plessis in the latter comes very swiftly to mind – but saved each and then struck out majestically for victory in the decisive final Test at Perth.
The Lord’s Test of 2008, again first of a series in England, is another good case: South Africa followed on almost 350 runs behind, but second-dig centuries from all of Smith, Amla and Neil McKenzie thwarted the home side’s quest for a win ... and with some ease.
A bit further back, the Proteas also went in notably rusty to the first Test of 2005 against West Indies in Guyana, and watched both Wavell Hinds and Shivnarine Chanderpaul get double-centuries in a near-550 total, before the tourists replied with a woeful 188.
But once again South Africa’s second innings resilience was altogether steelier as they batted out 161 overs to fight their way laboriously to safety, before showing who was boss in the remainder of the series.
The favoured boxer is on the ropes here, but don’t preclude the prospect just yet of some strong counter-punches.
If there was one particularly glaring area of concern from a Proteas points of view in their collective struggle in the field on Tuesday, it was that Robin Peterson went unrewarded and took a fair bit of stick all day in his intended role as main spinner.
But like so many team-mates, he was having his first properly competitive extended "middle" session of the summer.
Peterson also happens to be among those in the team hardly lacking in fighting spirit, given prior evidence ...
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