THE Castle Lager Proteas clean swept all three sessions on day one to take control of the second Test match against Pakistan at Dubai on Wednesday.
The South Africans, needing to win this match to square the series, were given a boost before the start of play when Dale Steyn was declared fit to play and, although Pakistan won what looked like a good toss, the fast bowler set the pattern for the rest of the day when he dismissed Pakistan’s batting hero from the first Test, Khurram Manzoor, with the second ball of the match.
For the rest of the day there was little holding the Proteas back as they dismissed Pakistan for 99 inside 37 overs and then replied with 128/3 by the close with their captain, Graeme Smith, showing a welcome sign of form (67 not out off 138 balls, 4 fours).
The hero of South Africa’s bowling effort was Imran Tahir who returned to the starting XI in the place of Robin Peterson for his first five-day appearance since the Adelaide Test against Australia a year ago. He claimed his first ‘fifer’ – and the first by a South African spinner since Paul Harris against England at SuperSport Park in December, 2009 – to return figures of 5/32. He twice took two wickets in an over as the Pakistan batsmen had little answer to his varieties that included a quick slider and well disguised googlies.
His five wickets fell in the space of 28 deliveries and came after he had sent down no more than 63 deliveries in his spell. It must certainly be the quickest five-wicket haul by a South African spinner since unity. It was the third five-wicket haul by a South African spinner against Pakistan, following Paul Adams at Lahore in 2003 and Paul Harris at Karachi in 2007. It was also Imran’s debut Test against the country of his birth.
Steyn claimed three wickets to give him a tally of 46 against Pakistan which is one more than the previous best achieved by Shaun Pollock in his career.
The South African fielding was extremely sharp as the Proteas returned to their expected levels of intensity. Faf du Plessis got things going with his catch in the gulley to remove Khurram and then Alviro Petersen accounted for Saeed Ajmal with a direct hit run out.
Pakistan were so desperate to get back into the match when they started to bowl that they had used up all their reviews by the end of the 11th over with two unsuccessful calls against Petersen. It is something they may live to regret, given that Ajmal is likely to be the key bowler for them.
On a slow pitch and a slow outfield the Proteas largely had to grind the runs out but towards the end Smith started to take control as he gained in confidence. His half-century (103 balls, 3 fours) coincided with the Proteas reaching 100 and taking the first innings lead.
Petersen helped him add 37 for the first wicket and Dean Elgar, filling Hashim Amla’s giant shoes, a further 54 for the second.
The dismissal of Jacques Kallis before the close would have given Pakistan some relief although Steyn did well to get through a difficult 25 minutes spell as the night watchman.
It was Smith’s third half-century of the current calendar year and he holds the key to establishing the sort of lead that will result in the Proteas only having to bat once in this Test match. He had a very good first day and backed his attacking instinct to introduce Imran to the attack as early as the 12th over – and that turned out to be an inspired move.