South Africa had eked out what looked like a winning lead at stumps on the second day of the third and final test against Pakistan yesterday.
A 212-runs lead – after the Proteas reached the close of play on 135/5 in their second innings – may not look like much on paper, but batting has not been easy on a Wanderers pitch that has had runs for grafting batsmen, but more than kept the bowlers interested with movement off it.
The result has been low totals, which have sped up the game to already being in its third innings on day two, meaning we are in for another Proteas special that should be finished with about two days to spare.
About the only thing that can save the visitors from a series whitewash is if the wicket changes its characteristics overnight, or their batsmen suddenly show a collective appetite to deal with the heat that the Proteas’ fast bowling attack has brought to this series.
Even then, their own attack, which has done an admirable job of keeping them in the contest throughout the series, would have to quickly dislodge the not out batsmen Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock.
After wickets had fallen regularly, the two combined for a partnership of 42 in typically different ways – Amla was cussed in compiling his unbeaten 42 (90 balls) and De Kock breezy in putting up his contribution of 34 in 35 deliveries.
Following a morning in which the Proteas wasted the chances they created by not taking their catches, fast bowler Duanne Olivier was instrumental in them emerging with a 77-run lead, despite a first innings total (262) that smacked of a missed opportunity.
Bowling fast, straight and short, Olivier continued with his happy knack of taking wickets despite not appearing to bowl at the wickets. But the “shock” stuff he has delivered this season clearly works, as his figures of 5/51 from 13 overs, which twice included two wickets in an over, would attest.
Olivier, who was ably assisted by Vernon Philander (3/43) and Kagiso Rabada (2/41), took the dodgy catching out of the equation with the kind of short-pitched bowling that meant most of the catches off his bowling were looping to the fielder.
Considering how strongly they had finished the evening before – they had the visitors at 17/2 – one expected the Proteas to, at the very least, make light work of removing night watchman Mohammad Abbas early in the day. But the fast bowler, aided and abetted by some shoddy fielding by the hosts, stubbornly stuck around in what ultimately became a 47-run partnership with opener, Imam-ul-Haq.
In an innings during which the Proteas would drop five catches, both Abbas and Imam-ul-Haq were put down twice in the morning session.
Abbas’ slash outside off went in and out off Temba Bavuma at gully, and not long after that, wicketkeeper De Kock lunged in front of first slip Amla to also drop him. Imam-ul-Haq, who grafted for his 43 from 105 balls, was given lives by Theunis de Bruyn and De Kock chopping across Amla and Dean Elgar respectively.
It took Olivier’s unsubtle brand of cricket to remove Abbas for a stubborn 11 from 51 balls, and prise the door open for the Proteas to take wickets regularly enough to facilitate the visitors’ cheap first innings total, even though captain Sarfraz Ahmed and Babar Azam did their bit to stem the tide with a brief, but profitable partnership of 78 runs.
Sarfraz, who was also put down off a difficult chance to Elgar while trying to guide Philander down to third man, went to his half-century off a T20-esque 38 balls. Azam’s 49, which included five fours in two overs from the luckless Dale Steyn, boasted no less than 10 boundaries.
Steyn, who went wicketless as a result of the butter fingers in the morning session, gave the Proteas management a scare when he clutched at his troublesome bowling shoulder, before going off the field for a while.
But after what was explained as stiffness, he returned later in the day to bowl another spell before the Pakistanis were dismissed for 185.