Aiden Markram was torpedoed by Shan Masood’s final ball of the first day at Newlands, but his 78 from 96 balls nevertheless ensured that South Africa claimed the opening honours in the second Test, as their batsmen capitalised on the efforts of Duanne Olivier and his fast-bowling cohorts to take a huge stride towards a series-winning victory.
Despite wandering from the crease with a slightly bewildered look, after Masood’s skiddy stump-rattler had ended a serene innings, Markram had more than played his part in cementing South Africa’s dominance. He added 67 for the second wicket with Hashim Amla, who reached the close unbeaten on 24, and made a green-tinged wicket look distinctly less threatening than it had seemed while Pakistan’s batsmen were subsiding to their third sub-200 total in as many innings this series.
Along the way, Markram struck 14 fours and a six, most notably a series of sweet punches through the covers that oozed class and timing. With four centuries in his first ten Tests, but a highest score of 19 in his last six innings dating back to the tour of Sri Lanka in July, this was a timely return to form from one of South Africa’s brightest batting talents, and one that he surely believed would be set to continue for a second day.
Markram proved especially adept at waiting for his scoring opportunities against a talented attack, led once again by the returning Mohammad Abbas, who was his usual relentless self with the new ball but who encountered a trio of opponents – Dean Elgar included – who were determined to sell their wickets more dearly than their counterparts had done in the first two sessions of the match.
Elgar was Pakistan’s only other scalp in a hard grind of an evening session, as Mohammad Amir found some extra lift outside off for Sarfraz Ahmed to gather a grazed edge. He fell for 20 from 30 balls, but in helping Markram add 56 for South Africa’s first wicket, Elgar ensured that that single partnership was worth more than Pakistan’s first five wickets combined.
In what was ostensibly a tightly fought contest at Centurion last week, it had been Pakistan’s twin totals of 181 and 190 that condemned their bowlers’ efforts to futility. And after losing the toss at a grassy Newlands, those same batsmen were forced to confront their demons from the outset.
South Africa’s attack had been reinforced by the return from injury of Vernon Philander, whose record at Newlands is second to none. And sure enough, when both Philander and Dale Steyn struck to remove Pakistan’s openers inside the first eight overs, the tone for another dispiriting performance had been set.
Fakhar Zaman, camped on the front foot against Steyn of all people, was duly startled by his bouncer and gloved a reflexive prod to slip, before Philander scalped his 50th wicket at Newlands with a perfect wicket-to-wicket nipbacker that would have clipped the top of Imam-ul-Haq’s off stump.
A scoreline of 13 for 2 quickly became 19 for 3 as Azhar Ali deflected an Olivier lifter to first slip, to depart to the paceman for the third time in as many innings, and though Asad Shafiq threw the bat with some success to help bring up Pakistan’s fifty, he was undone by an off-stump thunderbolt from Kagiso Rabada that fizzed at pace to Elgar at third slip.
One over later, Babar Azam had joined the procession, as he attempted to drop his hands to Olivier but instead offered catching practice to Faf du Plessis in the cordon, but as the sting went out of the new ball, so Sarfraz and Masood found the going to be considerably less fraught than their team’s earlier efforts had implied.
With a swatted six off Rabada, and five further fours of silky intent, Masood had been settling into the innings of the day thus far until he was undone by a critical lapse in concentration. On 44, he offered up a tentative jab as Rabada angled one across his bows, and Quinton de Kock obliged with a full-length dive in front of first slip.
Sarfraz, fully mindful of his team’s lack of spine at Centurion, brought up a fighting fifty from 67 balls, but the fightback wasn’t built to last. On 56, he attempted one ramp over the cordon too many, and with the tail exposed, South Africa’s quicks swarmed in. Olivier quickly accounted for Yasir Shah, via a flat-footed prod to second slip, and would have wrapped up his five-wicket haul had Amir been athletically caught by de Kock running back. Instead, Steyn ripped in to finish with three wickets of his own, and pass the mantle over to his batsmen. Despite the anticlimactic finish to Markram’s day, they did not disappoint.