Pakistan seamers hit back after Aiden Markram sets punishing tone

Cricket


Pakistan 17 for 2 trail South Africa 262 (Markram 90, Ashraf 3-57) by 245 runs

The notion is that Test matches are being played at an ever-faster pace, and the first day at the Wanderers was a frenetic case in point. For two sessions, South Africa batted serenely, seemingly set up for a day of dominance by Aiden Markram‘s dashing 90. Then, suddenly, Pakistan’s four-man seam attack hauled themselves off the canvas like mercury rising to demolish the lower order in 90 minutes of searching reverse-swing bowling that saw South Africa lose their last seven wickets for 33.

Their lethargic start to the day was forgotten, but Pakistan would have been praying for a sleepy finish, after the trials of their batsmen in the first two Tests of the series. Instead, Vernon Philander nipped out two in two balls as the sun began to set over Johannesburg, Shan Masood and Azhar Ali both edging behind. Pakistan were rolled for 49 on their last visit to the Bullring, in 2013, and South Africa’s quicks – in particular Dale Steyn, who took 6 for 8 that day – will be pawing the ground impatiently when the teams return in the morning.

In all, the final session saw nine wickets fall, a stark about turn after South Africa had cruised to a seemingly dominant position of 226 for 3 at tea. To that point, Mohammad Amir was the only bowler offering his captain a semblance of control, with Pakistan’s reshaped attack guilty of collective indiscipline.

However, in the third over after the interval, Mohammad Abbas snaked a ball into Theunis de Bruyn‘s pads to win an lbw decision and set in motion an extraordinary South Africa collapse. Amir found the right lines and a modicum of away movement to have Temba Bavuma and Zubayr Hamza, after an impressive cameo on debut, caught behind and the rest of the lower order wilted. After a stand of 75 for the fourth wicket between de Bruyn and Hamza, the next-highest partnership was 9.

Faheem Ashraf, the seam-bowling allrounder Pakistan had been reluctant to pick in the first two Tests, finished with 3 for 57, while Amir, Abbas and Hasan Ali – who had earlier been treated like a confectionary stall by South Africa’s top-order batsmen – each claimed two wickets apiece.

It was a curious showing from South Africa, who would have been disappointed not to post a more significant first-innings score in their pursuit of a series whitewash but know that Pakistan’s batting has only once passed 200 in the series so far. Despite the Wanderers offering up a far more friendly surface than that which was rated “poor” for India’s visit a year ago, it seemed to quicken up during the day – which will only encourage the home side after they stuck to their four-man seam attack from Cape Town.

South Africa went into the game with just one, enforced change, with Cape Cobras batsman Hamza handed a debut in the wake of Faf du Plessis’ slow over-rate suspension. Hamza, the 100th cap of the “Proteas” era – though the 335th man to play Tests for South Africa – was able to soak in the occasion from the dressing room during the morning before showcasing an impressive range of strokes in his 41 from 68 balls, lifting Shadab Khan’s legspin into the stands at deep midwicket and launching a flying uppercut over point off a Hasan bumper.

He and de Bruyn put ramped up the pressure on Pakistan, after they had removed Markram and Hashim Amla in quick succession. De Bruyn padded up nervously to his fifth ball and then survived an lbw review to an Amir delivery that pitched just outside leg on 14, but showed that he had settled at the crease when carving Hasan for a brace of cuts before tea – although he was unable to go on and reach fifty for what would have been only the second time in his nine-Test career.

Markram also failed to convert a sparkling start into a hundred for the second time in the series, but he set the tone for South Africa during a morning session in which the sight of his blade flashing fours through the off side was the standout feature.

His first boundary was a crisp cover drive off Abbas and then, twice in consecutive deliveries, Hasan was thrashed through backward point, Markram riding the bounce with disdain. Sarfraz Ahmed, who lamented his bowlers’ lack of pace after defeat in the second Test, could do little but fold his arms and wish for a few kph more.

Ashraf, one of three changes to the Pakistan XI from Cape Town, was introduced within the hour, and he was close to drawing a mistake from Markram, as a flashed back-foot drive flew just beyond the reach of gully. The only other chance offered by Markram came when he was on 2 and jabbed a ball out of the meat of the bat straight at short leg, where Shan Masood was unable to get his hands up in time for the epitome of a reaction catch.

His 14th boundary of the morning, an imperious straight drive off Abbas, took him to lunch on 78. With Amla puttering along smoothly in a lower gear – a peremptory chop into the covers here, a nudge off the pads there – South Africa made serene progress while Sarfraz shuffled through his options in vain. But a tickle down the leg side shortly after lunch gave Pakistan the breakthrough, as well as the first of five catches for Sarfraz.

That ended a stand of 126 for the second wicket, after Abbas had given Pakistan an early lift by having South Africa’s stand-in captain, Dean Elgar, caught behind in his first over. There was some success – and early signs of turn – for legspinning allrounder Shadab, too, as he had Amla edging a drive to slip when seemingly well set. For South Africa, that was to be the theme of a topsy-turvy day.



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