With a 127-run second-wicket stand, South Africa came storming back in Test. But, losing three wickets for ten runs late in the day, including that of the set pair, enabled Pakistan to wash the oil off their hands and get a grip back in the Test.
For South Africa, there were two batsmen with contrasting styles on show. On one hand was Aiden Markram, with the technique and flair of a modern-day batsman, itching to come on the front foot. At the other was Rassie van der Dussen with a lowered centre of gravity due to his stance and a technique modelled on an affinity to hang back while coming forward with a dead bat only when necessary. Both of them were equally effective at blunting the Pakistan bowling attack and stitch in what could have been a match-changing stand. They helped South Africa overcome a 158-run first-innings deficit and move into ascendancy.
Before tea, the pair batted with a rate of 1.4 runs per over. With them settled-in and the new ball seen-through, they added 91 runs in the 25.1 overs in the last session.
Markram was severe on anything full or with width outside off. Adept at driving the ball, he hit both the left-arm pacer and the left-arm spinner for boundaries through the covers. While facing Hasan Ali, he waited for the ball to reverse and presented a straight bat for a boundary past the bowler. Against Yasir Shah, he waited for the odd-short ball to cut it through the offside.
Markram scored equally on the off and leg-side but around 46% of his runs came through the point and cover region on his way to a half-century, the first by a South Africa opener in Asia since Hashim Amla against the same side in 2010.
Markram's partner, van der Dussen, was like a surgeon, using precise bat movements to nurdle the ball in gaps. But, he was superior on anything short and pulled the pacers and spinners for boundaries with ease.
In the end, it was a second spell and a change of ends for Yasir that turned evened out the day for Pakistan. Continuing his habit of coming forward to dead-bat the ball, van der Dussen played it to the waiting hands of silly mid-off.
South Africa survived a scare in the same over. The on-field umpire ruled Faf du Plessis out leg before only for the third umpire to find that the ball pitched outside leg on review.
Two overs later, Yasir produced another opportunity as he induced an edge off du Plessis. Earlier in the day, Babar Azam dropped one to his right. This time, the ball went past his left-hand side this time. Yasir took the matters in his own hands as he foxed du Plessis with a googly and found him plumb in front.
The day got more painful for South Africa after Nauman beat deceived Markram on the length. He could not reach to the pitch of the ball and lobbed another catch to silly mid-off. Nightwatchman Keshav Maharaj and skipper Quinton de Kock just about survived the last two overs.
While South Africa dominated most of the day’s play, a period of an hour at the start and 30 mins at the end put Pakistan in the driver’s seat. If the second day was a toil, the first hour of the third day was demoralizing for South Africa. The last two Pakistan wickets added 70 runs in just 12.2 overs to stretch the lead to 158 runs.
South Africa did not have seem to have definite plans against the tail. Anrich Nortje was short and wayward while Keshav Maharaj was too juicy to miss out on boundary options.
Kagiso Rabada did provide an early respite scalping his 200th Test wicket. Reaching there in 44 Tests, he is the sixth fastest ever to reach this feat. But, the last wicket pair of Yasir and the debutant Nauman etched a half-century stand to put the hosts in the ascendancy. Particularly impressive was Shah who hit a 37-ball 38. A rare number XI with a Test century in Australia, Yasir hit some crisp cover drives but hit best shot was a six down the ground to Maharaj.
Replying to the mammoth deficit, South African openers looked largely comfortable. There was not much swing with the new ball as the pitch has flattened out. But, there was variable bounce on offer, especially for Hasan Ali.
Both Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram survived an uncomfortable moment each. Markram got a decision overturned as a ball from Shaheen Shah Afridi pitched outside leg stump. Elgar got a smack on his grill after a ball from Hasan bounced higher than he expected.
With rough patches outside right-handers' leg stump, Yasir Shah was always going to be a threat. He did not bowl in the morning session. He delivered in the fifth over after lunch.
But, the wicket - that of Elgar - is as much a credit to Afridi as Yasir. In the second over after lunch, the variable bounce in the pitch got into action yet again. A good length ball rose above Elgar's expectation and hit him on the little finger of his left hand. There is no other batsmen in this Proteas squad as tough as Elgar. Countless times, he has battled injuries and tricky surfaces to come out on top. However, he was not himself after the blow today.
There were conspicuous signs of pain whenever Elgar made contact with the ball next. His agony came to an end when a sweep to a turning delivery from Yasir took a bottom edge and lobbed up for Mohammad Rizwan to complete a decent grab.
After Elgar’s dismissal, the second-wicket pair of Markram and van der Dussen threw the anchor down. The pair added 36 runs in the next 25.5 overs till the end of the afternoon session. Afridi and Yasir tried different approaches. Both went around the wicket, for different reasons. Afridi looking for reverse swing and Yasir to exploit the rough but the pair refused to yield. A few from Nauman kept low but van der Dussen saw them out with a dead bat.
The only chance for Pakistan came on the last ball of the 35th over. Yasir lured Markram into a drive but could only manage an outside edge. But, to his luck, Babar Azam diving to his right at first slip could not hand on to it.
Being far more aggressive post-tea, the pair just about took South Africa in a position to challenge Pakistan. All that changed in a hurry for South Africa. After all the hard work in the day, the game took a decisive turn in the last four overs.