Third innings will be the hardest

2013-02-17 10:00

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The South African cricket summer is dogged by the length of test matches. None have gone the full five days, but this is the one that’s likely to do so.

However, that will depend on the events of today’s first session. Yesterday was full of runs and wickets, but the two other days were dominated by bowlers.

Day one saw 60 runs scored for the loss of four wickets, with day two having 85 for the loss of five.

Thanks to Robin Peterson and AB de Villiers, 105 runs offset the loss of two wickets.

The first session has been very profitable.

One of the bowlers who will definitely make an impact is Saeed Ajmal.

After his mystical first innings spell, a drying Newlands track will be the perfect surface on which to weave more of his magic.

Murphy’s law is often raised in relation to the 22-yard turf, especially when the baking sun and the drying effects of the southeaster have had their way.

There is a bipolar element to this pitch, for it wakes up like a scorned child, giving all the advantage to the bowlers before flattening out again.

How much Pakistan will have to bowl at will be dependent on Azhar Ali, Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq.

The Proteas’ assistant coach, Russell Domingo, reckoned the third innings would be the hardest in which to progress.

Pakistan’s cautious approach seemed to show intent to put any demons in the pitch to bed.

Ali went about his job in a quiet manner, while the Pakistani captain used his minimalist batting style to great effect.

The pair grew in confidence and their shot selection said as much, with Misbah effortlessly lofting Robin Peterson for three sixes, all on the leg side.

The old ball proved to be as useful as a flat tyre on a highway and, if they can exploit it, it could set Pakistan up nicely.

There will be less pressure on their long tail, which performed gallantly.

It will provide Shafiq with a sufficient platform to attack.

South Africa’s tail outperformed theirs though, with Robin Peterson’s belligerent 106-ball innings of 84 providing the momentum that saw Nasir Jamshed and Mohammed Hafeez depart in quick succession without scoring.

Younus Khan (14) was the one person who had the ability to take the game away quickly, but he could not reprise his first-innings heroics.

A Morné Morkel-less attack did very well in limiting Pakistan to a run rate of just over two runs an over, which will make aggressive run-scoring difficult should the need to declare arise.

There is method to the madness, though, as the pitch has been exposed to excessive drying.

Pakistan needs at least four good sessions and a competitive total to stay alive in the series.

Their funereal run rate allowed South Africa time to get through their overs quickly in the race to the all-important second new ball, which is only 36 overs away.

The new cherry has taken wickets and it will shape the direction of the game – and maybe the rest of the series.

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