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Proteas’ bowlers save batsmen’s blushes on day one in Karachi

Pakistani cricketers celebrate the dismissal of South African batsman Rassie van der Dussen (kneeling) during the first day of the first Test in Karachi, Pakistan, 26 January 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Shahzaib Akber)
By Craig Ray
26 Jan 2021 0

South Africa’s bowlers saved the day after the Proteas won the toss, batted and failed to take advantage in the first Test against Pakistan in Karachi. The Proteas were bowled out for 220 midway through the final session, but Pakistan were reeling on 33 for four at the close on day one.

Kagiso Rabada showed the Proteas what they have missed in recent campaigns when he tilted the balance of the first day of the first Test against Pakistan back South Africa’s way. 

The first of two Tests, and the first between the sides in Pakistan for almost 14 years, has moved forward at warp speed. It’s unlikely to get anywhere near the fifth day after 14 wickets fell on day one, on a pitch that is already producing significant turn. 

Pakistani wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan in action during the first day of the first Test in Karachi, Pakistan. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Shahzaib Akber)

South Africa were set to pick three spinners for only the second time since their readmission to Test cricket in 1992, but in the end coach Mark Boucher only had two options. Tabraiz Shamsi suffered a back spasm in the warm-up and was withdrawn, with Lungi Ngidi earning a reprieve.

And it appears to have been a stroke of luck. Although Ngidi didn’t take a wicket, his three overs late on day one troubled the batsmen. It was South Africa’s seamers who set a high standard late in the day, with Rabada in the vanguard. 

After missing the recent T20Is against England and Tests against Sri Lanka, the intimidating Rabada was back in the Test groove in a matter of two balls.

In six disciplined and hostile overs in the slanting Karachi sun, Rabada removed openers Abid Ali (4) and Imran Butt (6) with two snorters to open up Pakistan’s innings. Slow left-armer Keshav Maharaj then claimed the big scalp of captain Babar Azam in his first over of the day. And shortly before the close, fast bowler Anrich Nortje castled nightwatchman Shaheen Shah Afridi (0). 

At 33 for four, South Africa’s below-par 22o all out is a long way off for Pakistan. 

Babar’s wicket was massive in the context of the match. Maharaj flighted one beautifully and the batsman missed it, to be trapped leg before for seven. That wicket goes to Maharaj, but it could also be put down to the relentless accuracy and hostility of Rabada, Nortje and Ngidi. The pace trio made it difficult for the batters, with accuracy and intent.

They didn’t waste a delivery and with the pitch’s variable bounce, Babar and Azhar Ali (5*) worked hard to keep them at bay. In Maharaj’s first over though, Babar lost concentration for a split second and paid the price. A day that had belonged to the home team after a good bowling and fielding performance suddenly swung the tourists’ way in the final hour of play. 

Fronting up 

There was a ripple of excitement around the Proteas camp after captain Quinton de Kock won his first Test toss in his third Test in charge and chose to bat. Having first dig at the best of the batting conditions was seen as a crucial step towards victory. 

But through a combination of poor decisions, poor shots, excellent fielding and some good bowling from Pakistan, the tourists were all out soon after tea. The total of 220 was certainly below par, but it could have been worse. 

George Linde and Rabada scored 35 and 21 not out respectively, showing the top order how it was done. Their contributions helped drag South Africa beyond the 200 mark. 

Pakistani security officials stand guard outside the National Cricket Stadium in Karachi during a practice session of the Pakistani and South African cricket teams in Karachi, Pakistan, 25 January 2021. The South African cricket squad arrived in Pakistan for their first tour consisting of two Test and three T20 matches after a 14-year break. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Shahzaib Akber)

Opener Dean Elgar, as has become the norm, provided the backbone of the innings. His 58 was a combination of attractive strokes, nurdles and nudges. On the other end, opener Aiden Markram was all style and talent. He was dismissed for 13, caught brilliantly by debutant Butt, who took a low catch to his left.

The dismissal was pure Markram though. He looked in command and in control with imperious strokes – until he was undone by an angled ball across him from left-arm quick Afridi. 

Elgar and Rassie van der Dussen were going along serenely enough, adding 33 for the second wicket when calamity struck. Van der Dussen drove straight to Babar at deep mid-off. Van der Dussen immediately set off but Elgar, at the non-striker’s end, was having none of it. In a blur, Van der Dussen braked, turned, dropped his bat, charged back towards his crease, dived desperately and hopelessly before being left stranded short of his ground. He was on 17. 

It was both comical and brutal. Van der Dussen stayed motionless on his knees for a few moments, composing himself before making the long walk back to the pavilion. One of the Pakistan players kindly retrieved the stranded bat from the middle of the pitch where it mocked the two Proteas batsmen. 

He handed Van der Dussen his weapon as he trudged off, without even so much as a smirk. Babar promised that Pakistan would not be aggressive outside of the actual game, and this was a sign of their good conduct. It must have been so tempting to give the batsman a pithy send-off. 

But South Africa provided the hosts with light entertainment the way they threw key wickets away. De Kock fell in typical fashion after a short period of playing with discipline on the difficult pitch. After hitting one boundary in 22 balls, De Kock attempted to heave the 23rd delivery he faced over cow corner. 

He was beaten by the flight of 34-year-old debutant Nauman Ali’s delivery and holed out at midwicket where Butt took a sharp catch. It was the most Quinton de Kock of Quinton de Kock dismissals and an example of impatience that was unbecoming of the skipper. 

Elgar edged to slip off Nauman’s slow left-arm and Faf du Plessis (23) was caught behind by Mohammad Rizwan off leg-spinner Yasir Shah. 

Temba Bavuma (17) managed to run himself out in a third unnecessary dismissal, leaving the lower order to salvage some respect after the top order largely squandered their opportunities. 

“I’d say we are on top,” Elgar told an online media conference after the day’s play. “After our first innings, I don’t think I would have said that. But them being 33 for four is something we would have bought overnight. We would have paid good money to have them four down for such a low score knowing that the pitch is going to become tougher to score on, and knowing that we have some very good spinners who can exploit that pitch. 

“In saying that, the pitch is not playing badly. We didn’t bat particularly well. We know that we haven’t fulfilled our potential, especially considering the way we’ve prepared leading up to this Test. We’ve had some very good preparation but sometimes Test cricket can get the better of you and you get caught in the moment, and you have to respect that.” 

Despite the batting department’s failings, the Proteas are somehow in command. It’s over to Rabada and his crew of bowlers to keep the pressure on when play resumes on Wednesday. DM

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