Cape Town – South Africa, Feb 17, 2013: A cracking match in Cape Town continued to be a great advertisement for Test cricket as it served up another yo-yoing session on the fourth morning which handed South Africa an advantage they never ceded, going on to complete their fifth Test win in a row and sixth consecutive series victory.
Azhar Ali enhanced his outstanding third-innings record – he scored his fifth successive fifty-plus, third-innings score – and in the company Asad Shafiq, seemed to be gradually pushing Pakistan towards supremacy in the first hour and a half. As always with Pakistan cricket, though, the unpredictable happened and four wickets went down for five runs, making South Africa front-runners and further embellishing Vernon Philander’s astonishing Newlands record.
From looking at a tricky target of around 250, South Africa were left chasing a more manageable 182, which they hunted down thanks chiefly to yet another half-century from the world’s No. 1 ranked Test batsman, Hashim Amla.
South Africa’s high-tempo pursuit was in contrast to Misbah-ul-Haq and Ali’s cautious approach at the start of the day, adding only 14 off the first eight overs. South Africa were hampered by the absence of Morne Morkel, who was sidelined with a hamstring injury, but with Robin Peterson holding up one end, they continued to be accurate, though not unplayable. Misbah fell trying to sweep Peterson out of the rough, top-edging a catch towards short fine leg, and was visibly frustrated at that unforced error as he trudged off the field.
Shafiq was more adventurous than either Misbah or Ali, attacking Peterson when he bowled too full or too short. Though Steyn had upped his pace and Philander was his nagging self around off, with Ali moving beyond 60 and Shafiq confidently slapping Philander over the man at point for four, Pakistan were effectively on 159 for 4.
That was a position of great strength, especially given that South Africa would have to face the befuddling spin of Saeed Ajmal in the final innings, but the match turned in the matter of minutes. Shafiq defended a Philander delivery, and couldn’t react quickly enough to either kick the ball away or deflect it with his bat as it bounced towards the off stump.
If that was unfortunate, the next dismissal was unforgivable as Sarfraz Ahmed advertised his lack of batting ability by inexplicably not getting either pad or bat behind a Peterson delivery that spun, not too alarmingly, from the rough to crash into the top of middle stump. Philander then added two typical dismissals, getting Ali to edge to the keeper before Umar Gul completed a pair by nicking to a wide third slip. It was a team hat-trick, and Pakistan were suddenly down to 152 for 8. After lunch, Peterson bowled Ajmal round his legs before Steyn rounded off the innings five overs later to leave South Africa facing a target of 182.
Alviro Petersen could have fallen to Mohammad Irfan twice – surviving a close lbw call in the first over and reprieved in the third as the replays showed Irfan had just overstepped – but he couldn’t capitalise, trapped lbw by Gul in the fourth.
If that strike buoyed Pakistan, they were then up against two batsmen who are masters in the final innings, Graeme Smith and Amla. Smith used his tried-and-tested method of working almost everything to the leg side, and Amla unleashed several of his fierce off-drives to push South Africa along.
If Pakistan were to have any chance of defending the total, it would need another herculean effort from their first-innings hero, Ajmal. He used every trick he had, subtly varying the length, getting the ball to spin either way, and got it to hurry off the pitch and even dismissed three of South Africa’s big batsmen – Smith, Amla and Jacques Kallis – but lacked enough support from the other end.
Kallis hit some regal drives in a 21, AB de Villiers was his usual busy self and Amla top scored with 58 to make sure Pakistan never had more than an outside chance of victory. There was time for Ajmal to complete a richly deserved ten-for when he had Faf du Plessis lbw before South Africa reached the finish line with four wickets to spare. —- Report by Siddarth Ravindran/Image © Associated Press