After seven months in the wilderness, South Africa returned to Test cricket on Monday. After early predictions that the track in Abu Dhabi would be nothing but flat, the Proteas will probably be slightly disappointed to find themselves at 245-8 against Pakistan on the first day of the Test.
South Africa won the toss and chose to bat, but it was Pakistan’s day and Pakistan’s sessions for the most part of the day. If it weren’t for Hashim Amla and JP Duminy, South Africa would have found themselves in a whole heap of trouble. Not to take anything away from Pakistan, of course; their bowlers fired from the get-go and have set the foundation for Pakistan to really have go at the world’s number one ranked Test side.
Here are five talking points from day one at Abu Dhabi.
South Africa definitely are a bit rusty
Being away from the Test format for so long certainly has an impact on focus and intensity. While a good few of the South African players have had a bit of match practice from franchises and county sides, they clearly are a bit out of it. Small lapses in concentration have cost them and while it won’t take too long for them to revive their ruthless streak, at least it’s made the Test exciting, for now. It does raise the question once again over whether the tour calendar needs to be relooked at. The Future Tours Programme is set up so far in advance that by the time a side finds itself in a dominant position on the rankings, they sometimes find themselves robbed of the opportunity to play. The discrepancy between number of Tests played by each country is another concern. In the last three years, South Africa have played just 25 Tests and Pakistan just 24. Comparatively, England have played 37, Australia have played 34 and India have played 30. Surely there is a better way to juggle schedules?
The spirit of Kamran Akmal lives on through AB de Villiers
Whenever Kamran Akmal steps onto a cricket field, some sort of comedy cricket happening isn’t far off. Whether it’s some sort of absurd missed catch, dropped catch or just general hilarity, something funny is always about to happen. Kamran, of course, has not played Test cricket since 2010 and in his place behind the stumps, his brother Adnan Akmal now appears.
On Monday, the Spirit of Kamran Akmal made its presence known when AB de Villiers got out in a fashion so casual, you might not even see it in street cricket. De Villiers had looked dead focused for the 75 balls he had faced before that, but a slight lapse in concentration saw South Africa’s blue-eyed boy run out. After going forwrd to defend, De Villiers got an edge which trickled to Younis Khan at first slip. De Villiers remained standing in his forward defensive stance and when Khan lobbed the ball back to Adnan, the wicketkeeper casually removed the bails to send the batsman on his way for 19. The only thing more surprising than the dismissal was that there were no “choker” jibes spotted on Twitter afterwards.
Mr Reliable is Hashim Amla’s middle name
Hashim Amla scored 48 percent of South Africa’s total runs thus far. Combined with JP Duminy’s runs, the pair managed 71 percent of the total. Amla once again proved why he is so incredibly valuable to the South African set-up. Since walking to the crease with South Africa in a little bit of a panic, he was solid. His ability to stay calm, wait out the dot balls and rotate the strike is particularly valuable. Amla has proven time and time again that he is the zen-master of the South African set up and when all things fall apart, Amla will always be there to help his side knuckle down. Amla averages 96.66 this year in the six Tests (including the one he is currently involved in) and has scored 580 runs.
Maybe it won’t be as dull as everyone thought
Whenever a side tours the United Arab Emirates, the pitches are dull, dreary and the only harm that is caused is when batsmen lose their heads and self-harm, just like England’s batsmen did when they visited two years ago. This time, though, there was all sorts of things to be found in the pitch.
A little bit of pace and bounce helped Mohammed Irfan early on before the track flattened out for a little while to give South Africa some impetus. It didn’t take long before there were clear signs of the wicket starting to turn, something which will only get more threatening as the game goes on. The South African side is littered with part-time spinners and they have be pondering the “what if they played Imran Tahir” theory. Pakistan’s bowlers have also been really good, they constantly probed the South African batsmen and bowled at irritating lengths which has led some to play some rather silly shots and get themselves out. Keeping their economy rates low and frustrating the South Africans has worked really well. The man on debut, Zulfiqar Babar, came back strong to finish the day on figures of 27-2-89-3 after a shaky start. It was always going to imperative for Pakistan to start well and they’ve done that. Game well and truly on after day one.
The curse of being a giant
Mohammed Irfan’s height is often brought up and it’s often discussed how players do throw downs from cooler boxes to try and prepare for balls coming at them from such a dizzy height. Early on in the Test, Irfan showed that being tall has its benefits when he generated loads of extra bounce out of a pitch that was supposed to be flat and dead. There is a curse to being so tall, though. Irfan struggled with his consistency and was constantly overstepping the line. The umpire, though, took a while to notice and when he eventually did, Graeme Smith stood up and applauded. It was his 12th no ball in just three Tests, enough to make Morne Morkel feel more at ease with his consistency struggles.
Day one close of play summary
South Africa: 245-8
Hashim amla 118* (250), JP Duminy 57 (76); Zulfiqar Babar 27-2-89-3, Mohammed Irfan 16.2-3-42-2
South Africa won the toss and elected to bat first. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Hashim Amla plays a shot during the second day of their first cricket test match against Pakistan in Johannesburg, February 2, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
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