Pakistan survive three-day curse to fight on
Test matches, the statistics suggest, increasingly find ways of reaching premature climax inside three days. It was under partly cloudy skies for the bulk of the third day of the second Test that Pakistan battled bravely just to fight another day.
In this case, they succeeded in delaying their stay of execution to build a lead of 40 runs, which SA has to knock off, weather permitting of course, over the next two days.
With a first-innings deficit of 254 they were truly staring down the barrel at 27/2 once Imam ul Haq and Azhar Ali had departed before lunch.
By then, however, early in their partnership Shan Masood (61) and Asad Shafiq (88) had joined forces.
They batted with resilience in the middle session, and in fact at times looked comfortable on a pitch their coach, Mickey Arthur, the previous evening had described as unfit for Test cricket.
Arthur's comment rankled, especially after SA had compiled a mini mountain of runs, under albeit trying circumstances, on the second day. The point he was making, though, was that inconsistent bounce had made a lottery of batting already on day two and not the last two days of a Test match.
Faf du Plessis and Temba Bavuma were routinely hit on different parts of their bodies as a result of the inconsistent bounce on day two, so his comments carried some weight.
Applying the heavy roller between innings after SA was bowled out for 431 in their first innings on day three seemed to smooth out some of the demons in the Krakatoa, and despite the loss of the two early wickets, Pakistan found ways of hanging on.
Kagiso Rababa sought to bring some perspective on the pitch after day three after labelling it a "boring pitch" before the start of the game. "When you are prepared to fight in the middle you'll score runs," said Rabada.
"Even at Centurion, Imam ul Haq scored runs. Shan scored runs here. There have been runs. It shouldn't be too easy to score runs in Test cricket," said the fast bowler.
Arthur was looking for a fight on day three and his batsmen largely obliged. Pakistan's batsmen, facing exaggerated bounce, had displayed some technical flaws by not moving across to their off stump earlier in the series but yesterday they were in line. The pitch, to be fair, held fewer demons.
As the shadows lengthened, the biggest concern here was whether the match would finish inside three days and Pakistan somehow avoided that rogue's list of teams vanquished inside three days.
Arthur, his comments about the pitch notwithstanding, was suggesting that pitches carried more peril now compared to the time he coached the South African team between 2006 and 2010.
That, of course, partly explains why matches don't run their intended distance, but it is also a global phenomenon. In the 212 Tests played between 2008 and 2013, only 20 finished inside three days. In the 270 Tests played between 2013 and 2018, 41 finished inside three days. Six out of 33 Tests in that period played in SA finished inside three days.
It thus became a matter of personal pride for Pakistan to take the match into a fourth day.
Despite the solid foundations of Shan and Asad early on and later by Babar Azam, who compiled an at times enterprising 72 off only 87 deliveries, Pakistan were walking a tightrope.
Towards the end Dale Steyn, who had settled into a nice rhythm earlier, became the most tormented soul inside Newlands.
He watched catches being dropped off his bowling and that he had collected four wickets by then clearly added to the frustration. He'll have to come back for the fourth day too.