South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test Cape Town

Cape Town – South Africa, Feb 15, 2013: Pakistan cricket continues to confound. In the morning, South Africa’s ruthless pack of quick bowlers ran through the opposition top order yet again and all the fears over Pakistan’s brittle batting seemed to have come to pass. Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq, however, showed there was plenty of backbone in the batting by putting on Pakistan’s biggest Test partnership against South Africa to even up the match on the first day in Cape Town.

Against the finest attack in the world, Younis enhanced his reputation of scoring runs when his team was in distress. The famous Younis smile was frequently on display, after particularly good deliveries – a Dale Steyn curler which beat him, a Morne Morkel bouncer which struck him on the body – and especially after completing his first Test hundred in a year.

Shafiq’s century is likely to rank as the finest innings of his career so far. Initially, he wasn’t in the best touch: there was a leading edge beyond mid-off, and there were several loose drives outside off which didn’t connect, but he grew in confidence once the pitch started to lose its venom. After that he unveiled his strokes, uppercutting Jacques Kallis behind point for four and picking off the usually accurate Vernon Philander for two leg-side boundaries in an over.

What really allowed the Pakistan batsmen to break free was the introduction of the weak link in the South Africa attack, Robin Peterson. His job description, especially on day one, is to keep it tight while the quicks get a breather, but he couldn’t quite play that role as he struggled to settle into a consistent line and length. There were far too many short balls early on and the pressure built up by the fast bowlers – who gave away only 14 runs in the first 12 overs after lunch – quickly evaporated as he gave away four boundaries in his first five overs.

Pakistan’s most dominant phase came after tea, when South Africa were waiting for the second new ball. There wasn’t much reverse swing on offer, and South Africa rotated Kallis, Peterson and Dean Elgar to keep their main bowlers fresh. Younis opened out, hitting a couple of straight sixes and Shafiq launched a flighted delivery well over long-on and then crashed one behind backward point as 62 runs came in the final 10 overs with the old ball.

Both batsmen reached their century just before the new ball, and Pakistan had moved along to 238 for 4 after 80 overs. Then came a critical phase of play as South Africa’s attack reverted to menacing. Steyn and Philander bowled several unplayable deliveries; Philander had the ball buzzing past the outside edge and Hot Spot saved Younis against Steyn in the first over with the second new ball. It was Hot Spot that provided the evidence to end Younis’ innings two overs before stumps, though, as South Africa reviewed an lbw decision, only to find that Younis had edged the ball through to the keeper.

South Africa were just as threatening in the morning. Slicing through the opposition has become so common to them that when Philander took his first wicket of the day, he barely bothered to celebrate, merely completing his follow-through as though the batsman had left the ball alone. Even wicketkeeper AB de Villiers didn’t belt out an appeal or jump for joy after taking a regulation catch, merely tossing the ball aside and jogging up to Philander to congratulate him.

Once again, the fast bowlers had the ball hooping around, the purists ooh-ing and aah-ing over the late movement and the batsmen flailing outside off. Midway through the session, Pakistan was down to 33 for 4, and any attempts to forget their record low of 49 all out in Johannesburg were pointless.

For the second Test in a row, South Africa captain Graeme Smith took the unconventional decision at the toss. After choosing to bat on a difficult track in Johannesburg, he opted to bowl on a Cape Town surface that was expected to ease out after the first hour. Towards lunch, it did settle down but, as Smith hoped, serious damage had already been done.

Philander started the procession with that celebration-free wicket of Nasir Jamshed, who flirted with one outside off without moving his feet. Steyn joined in with his usual away-cutters, one of which Mohammad Hafeez nicked to first slip. Morkel then had Azhar Ali wafting outside off, to give de Villiers another simple catch before he produced another of those patented rearing deliveries that Misbah-ul-Haq could only glove to short leg for a duck.

It all seemed one-way traffic, before Younis and Shafiq led the recovery with centuries that gave South Africa’s bowlers increasingly rare sessions of frustration. —- By Siddarth Ravindran/Senior Sub-Editor at ESPN cricinfo/Image © Getty Images

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