Newlands: The chaos ends

AB de Villiers and Younis Khan (Gallo Images)
AB de Villiers and Younis Khan (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - New Zealand 45 all out in 19.2 overs, Australia 47 all out in 18 overs ... Newlands has hardly been averse to all-fall-down drama over the past two seasons.

So when Pakistan’s first innings quickly subsided to 33 for four on the opening morning of the second Test against South Africa at the scenic ground on Thursday, another extraordinarily low completed knock threatened quite ominously.

“Bang go my Sunday cricket plans,” spectators would have been justified in lamenting, as the now well-established, frequently deadly pace trio of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel made merry once more in the seam-friendly first session of a cool, rain-preceded morning.

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VIDEO: South Africa vs Pakistan 2nd Test day 1, highlights

The situation at the time would have come as some relief to Graeme Smith, the milestone-reaching Proteas captain, who had made the tricky decision, perhaps against his instincts, of taking to the field after winning the toss - it was confirmation he had acted shrewdly under prevailing circumstances.

But spoiled by the near-unrelenting successes of recent months, both the South African team and their supporters may well have forgotten to some extent that one of the most time-honoured qualities of the Test game is its ability to alter balance, sometimes prodigiously and against the odds.

And as the conditions progressively dried and warmed, Pakistan’s senior batting statesman Younis Khan and the younger Asad Shafiq mounted a fifth-wicket fightback quest that began doggedly - necessarily, admirably so - and then assumed altogether more imperious proportions.

The more magnanimous of local observers (and you’d like to think there are many) would not have hesitated to reluctantly laud it as gritty, high-calibre occupancy of the crease - the pair were not split until deep into the last session, and after 71 overs together which produced an invaluable 219 runs.

Frankly, it was vintage Pakistan: no other nation quite manages to match their penchant for turning disorder and turmoil into the sweetest of harmony ... and of course sometimes vice versa!

The globally proven and respected Younis has been campaigning for more than a decade to finally bank a really bulky innings in South Africa (despite a career average of 51 from 80 Tests ahead of this one) and this was his first century in his seven Test-match attempts on our soil.

He made left-arm spinner Robin Peterson look disturbingly ordinary at times, especially with some consummate lofted drives for boundaries of both varieties, while he was also seeing the ball so well against the quicker men toward the end of the day that he was cheekily two-stepping down the track to dispatch them.

You have to say this much for Peterson, however: apart from the traditional fact that day one tends not to be hugely productive to exponents of his craft, the whole day’s play might just have turned out notably differently had Shafiq, on only 24, been snapped up at short-leg by Dean Elgar off his bowling instead of crucially spilled.

Cashing in royally on the let-off, the 27-year-old, who had scored 61 in his maiden Test innings against the same foes at Abu Dhabi in late 2010, also notched his first three-figure tally against South Africa and lived to fight another day, albeit on the slightly uncomfortable “Nelson”.

Pakistan, who must not lose this Test if the series is to stay alive at Centurion, thus ended proceedings reasonably satisfyingly placed - but by the same token the Proteas do not yet have real cause to fret.

Resuming as they will on Friday with a still shiny second ball, it is not beyond them to mow down the lower order and keep the tourists to a manageable total perhaps not too much above the 300-mark.

In order to do that, Smith may implore his troops to be a little sharper by way of support as a fielding unit to the bowlers than they were on the first day, when some annoying little general lapses crept in.

Judging by the way the pitch settled down after lunch on Thursday, the ground may well resume its long-time reputation for being a particularly fine place to prosper with the blade on days two and three - anticipated heat and cloudless skies will help in no small measure.

That said, South Africa must also try to guard against Pakistan grinding on for too long themselves in their first knock, because if they were to stretch their score to 400 or more, the dryness of the strip will start to interest their high-quality spinners like Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez.

My gut feel at this point is that the Proteas, though, are odds-on to go pretty big themselves in their first turn at the crease.

They may need to, given the “batting last” likelihood ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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