Pakistan v South Africa, 3rd Test, Abu Dhabi, 1st day
South Africa 311 for 5 (de Villiers 119*, Kallis 105, Tanvir 4-67) v Pakistan
Contrasting hundreds from Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers pulled South Africa out of strife and into a position of considerable comfort at the Sheikh Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi. Debutant seamer Tanvir Ahmed had reduced South Africa to 33 for 3 but Kallis and de Villiers punched back with a 179-run stand that left South Africa handily placed on 311 for 5. For Pakistan, only Tanvir could look back on the day with similar pride.
The Kallis-de Villiers stand was the tenth century partnership in 32 innings between the pair and it was done with such aggression it suggested Pakistan were in trouble when they came together. Kallis’s fight began the moment Graeme Smith became the third victim of a hectic morning and though his mien remained as expressionless as usual, his game was unusually expressive.
He had hooked an uncontrolled six by the time a swish of fortune sashayed in. Mohammad Sami’s first over captured an entire career: one unplayable delivery, honest endeavour but batsman ultimately supreme. Having been beaten by a beauty, Kallis coolly cover drove the next two balls for four and the day’s mood changed.
Sami was plundered repeatedly, everywhere and anywhere and even Umar Gul wasn’t spared a fine pull and efficient drives. Either side of lunch two towering sixes off Abdur Rehman brought one message: ‘I am Kallis, you are nothing’. Not a particularly attacking spinner on his best days, Rehman immediately retreated, the supremacy in the relationship established. By then a swift fifty had been notched up as casually as a snap of the fingers.
de Villiers was twitchier, a more impish presence and not just because he doesn’t have Kallis’ broad-chested appearance. Whereas Kallis imposed himself on matters, de Villiers took advantage of Pakistan’s growing flakiness. When they pitched short, he gladly cut; when they got too full he happily drove; when they drifted to his pads, he politely clipped away.
Five overs after lunch a century partnership was registered and by this time, the surface had lost its early morning friskiness. Boundaries were mostly controlled, though with Sami around control remained a relative concept. In any case, runs were so readily available no risk needed to be taken. One flick brought up a fifty for de Villiers. As an afterthought Kallis brought up a fifth hundred in four Tests against Pakistan, in which his lowest score is 59; in his first 11 against them, he had only one. It was his fastest century as well.
When Kallis fell, de Villiers carried on, though with the sadness and restraint of someone who has lost a partner. He was comatose during the nineties, only waking up once four freebie overthrows from Gul took him to 99. It would’ve been impolite to not take a single next ball. Essentially the day ended there for him.
Pakistan were fitful, not stringing together any sustained pressure. Tanvir was responsible for the highs, further proof that whatever hole they find themselves in, there’s always a fast bowler to get excited about.
A month shy of his 32nd birthday, he was an unlikely hero and not just because he is probably the best bowler ever born in Kuwait. The pitch at Test cricket’s 103rd venue had enough moisture in it early on to tempt Misbah-ul-Haq to bowl. It was a second gesture of positivity; the first had been to revert back to Pakistan’s traditional strengths by selecting a three-man pace attack.
Tanvir has long been a steady hand at the domestic level; sharp enough, always tight and if conditions are right, eminently capable of exploiting them. So in he ran as Pakistan’s oldest debutant new-ball bowler, a heavy action and a grunt at release and did precisely that. Immediately he became the sixth Pakistani to take a wicket in the first over and a typical scalp too, full, searching for swing, finding an edge. It was his 400th first-class wicket. Five balls later he had another and Test cricket was looking an easy game, though admittedly Asoka de Silva had a greater hand in Hashim Amla returning to the pavilion.
Later, through a long afternoon Tanvir maintained a pleasant discipline and the wicket of Kallis after tea helped Pakistan slow down the scoring. But after the first hour the bluff had gone from the rest and the attack looked precisely what it was: quite weak. Gul looked good in patches, Sami a man condemned and Rehman the wrong choice.
The umpires, who got four decisions clearly wrong, had a worse day.
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