Faf du Plessis had just about the perfect start to his new year as his four-man pace attack bowled out Pakistan inside 52 overs and his top three batsmen then went a long way towards giving the Standard Bank Proteas the first innings advantage on day one of the second Castle Lager Test match against Pakistan at PPC Newlands on Thursday.
It was always going to be a difficult decision for the Proteas to go into a Newlands Test match without a spin bowler and it was doubly important that the Proteas had the opportunity to bowl first which duly happened when Sarfraz Ahmed lost an important toss.
The result was that the Proteas were able to dismiss Pakistan for 177 in 52.1 overs with Duane Olivier (4/48) taking his tally for the series to 15 wickets. Indeed, had Quinton de Kock managed to hold on to a difficult running catch he would have had his third five-wicket haul in a row.
The other three seamers chipped in as well as did the men in the cordon behind the stumps with De Kock taking four catches and the only wicket not to fall to those in the catching area behind the stumps was that of Imam-ul-Haq who was trapped leg before wicket by Vernon Philander to give Newlands current favourite son his 50th wicket at his home venue.
In reply, the Proteas made the conditions look very comfortable for the batting side and, although Aiden Markram was dismissed off the last ball of the day by the part-time seam of Shan Masood, the game was very much in the home side’s favour as they closed off the day at 123/2 in only 30 overs for an overall deficit of just 54 runs.
Markram had by far his best innings of the summer to day (78 off 96 balls, 14 fours and a six), having shared partnerships of 56 for the first wicket with Dean Elgar and a further 67 for the second with Hashim Amla.
There was enough evidence in the second half of Pakistan innings to suggest that conditions were becoming a lot more suitable for batting as their captain, Sarfraz, shared successive partnerships of 64 with Masood and then a further 42 with Mohammed Amir.
Pakistan had struggled to 75/5 at lunch but for a long time it looked as though they might get through the afternoon session for the loss of just one further wicket. But it was not to be as the Proteas took the last five wickets in an extended middle session for 102 runs.
Sarfraz’s contribution of 56 (81 balls, 9 fours) was by far the biggest.
It has been a feature of Pakistan’s batting in the series that they have scored plenty of boundaries while losing plenty of wickets. Their boundary total today added up to almost 100 runs (22 fours and a six).
The Proteas have already hit 20 fours and a six in their reply but they have managed to build partnerships at the same time.