SA look in control, De Kock gets a ton against Pakistan
Pakistan have a winning chance in the final Test, but victory for the visitors seems improbable
Pakistan’s tilt at history in terms of not only recording their first Test win in Johannesburg but also pulling off their second-highest Test run chase will go into a fourth day on Monday.
With their most aggressive batsmen in Babar Azam (17*) and Asad Shafiq (48*) at the crease and time on their side, 381 is within their reach, though it seems improbable.
Pakistan ended the third day on 153/3, 228 runs from their historic goal with only Sarfraz Ahmed and a longish fragile tail to follow.
But they showed the fight sorely lacking in first-innings battles in all three Tests.
Then again, Pakistan tend to play their best cricket when their backs are to the wall.
Imam-ul-Haq (35) and Shan Masood (37) gave the visitors a solid 67-run start after SA were bowled out for 303. The openers were removed by the Quinton de Kock/Dale Steyn combination.
Azhar Ali’s (15) miserable series came to an end when his nemesis, Duanne Olivier, bounced him out yet again.
Olivier has dismissed Ali four out of six times this series, denying Pakistan’s best and most experienced batsman crucial crease time on a surface whose demons have dissipated.
Babar and Shafiq blazed their way to an unbeaten 49-run fourth-wicket partnership that pretty much stands between a landmark chase and a customary collapse.
How they wish they could have a batsman of Hashim Amla’s ilk who can not only stave off a collapse, but can also serenely get his team into a good position while another batting partner charms the crowd with sumptuous strokes.
While on their way to setting Pakistan the steep fourth-innings target, the far quieter but appreciative Sunday crowd was treated to a delectable fourth Test century by De Kock.
It was a proper De Kock special, laced with boundaries but also the intelligent kind of placement and running between the wickets that is not always associated with big hitters. It came off only 121 balls and contained 15 fours. When he holed out to Hasan Ali at deep fine leg off Shadab Khan (3/41), the standing ovation was a warm one that recognised an unfussy lower-order ton of the highest class.
With the Proteas also needing their top-order big guns to come good ahead of the looming five-match ODI series against the same opponents, the century was a timely one.
After all, De Kock also scored a very good 50 in the second Test in Cape Town.
Another heart-warming knock for the selectors was Amla’s 71.
While he got a very good nut from Faheem Ashraf (3/42) that terminated his innings after 144 balls, he steered SA out of some choppy waters of 45/4 in the second innings.
He not only guided them from trouble, but dragged them through parity and into a position of meaningful dominance. It also provided the needed reassurance that he is in some sort of dominance that stands the national team in good stead for the ODI leg that leads to the World Cup.
Kagiso Rabada (21) showed his increasing maturity at the crease, with his innings spanning 62 balls but there was not such for Vernon Philander (14) and Olivier (1).
However, Pakistan’s chase remains a steep one despite the pitch’s easy nature.
And even though they started well, they will need to summon their shallow batting reserves if they are to salvage something from this game.