It was an uphill task for Pakistan at the start of the day’s play, but Fawad Alam’s third Test century has put them in the driver’s seat in the first Test against South Africa at the National Stadium, Karachi. Resuming the day on 33 for 4, 187 runs behind, the experience of Fawad Alam (109) and Azhar Ali (51) showed in the first session when the duo was willing to absorb the pressure initially and took the runs as and when they came. Their 94-run stand for the third wicket steadied Pakistan after they were rocked on the first day, after bowling South Africa out for 220.
A thick outside edge off Keshav Maharaj was pouched by Quinton de Kock and Ali became the spinner’s first scalp of the day after toiling hard for more than a session. But South Africa did not have any respite as Mohammad Rizwan played positively. He scored 33 off 59 in a 55-run stand, but it was Alam’s partnership with Faheem Ashraf that took Pakistan past South Africa’s score.
The only chance Alam gave South Africa was when he edged one to Dean Elgar at first slip off Maharaj just before lunch, but the South Africa opener reacted slowly and as a result, the ball hit his shoe before he could get a hand to it. Other than that is was a flawless innings, especially against spin, against whom he averages 110.5 in Test cricket. Alam brought up his third century with a six over mid-wicket off Maharaj.
Kagiso Rabada thought he had his 200th Test wicket when Ashraf edged one to the ‘keeper only for him to spill a low catch, a few overs after South Africa opted to take the second new ball.
By then, Pakistan had taken the lead and the Alam-Ashraf partnership was beginning to take the game away from the visitors. Ashraf grew from strength to strength and brought up his third Test fifty off just 69 balls. The fact that he was scoring freely relieved the pressure on Alam, with whom he put on 102 for the sixth wicket. An over after Ashraf reached his landmark before Alam chipped on straight to mid-wicket to give Ngidi his second wicket.
Pakistan were 27 for 4 when Alam came to the crease, still trailing South Africa by 193 runs. When he departed though, the hosts had 278 runs on the board and had taken a 58-run lead. An innings punctuated by grit, determination and refusing to give up despite taking a couple of blows to the body, including one on his wrist, which was visibly difficult for him to shake off. Alam has now converted all his three Test fifties into hundreds – an incredible feat indeed.
After Alam’s dismissal, it was Ashraf’s responsibility to ensure that Pakistan did not collapse, but he could not carry on for much longer as he played on to his wickets of Anrich Nortje with seven overs or so left. Fresh from a cracking century at the Quaid-e-Azam final, Hasan Ali was given a huge let-off, when he was cleaned bowled of a no-ball by Maharaj, summing up South Africa’s day.
Day One had seen 14 wickets fall for 253 runs. But Day Two turned out to be slightly better for the batsmen as only four wickets fell for 275 runs. It will be interesting to see if Day Three too could be a good one for the batsmen. As of now, there are no indications of any demons on the pitch, but we could see the spinners make use of the rough, perhaps from Day Four. Till then, the batsmen need to cash in and make the best of it.
South Africa 220 (Dean Elgar 58, Yasir Shah 3 for 54) trail Pakistan 308 for 8 (Fawad Alam 109; Kagiso Rabada 2 for 45) by 88 runs