Proteas crash, but still hold the aces in Pakistan test
Test match is slipping away from Pakistan as Amla and De Kock rebuild SA innings
It's a real pity that this Test has no series significance for it is tantalisingly poised.
Having gifted SA a lead of 77 after their regulation batting malfunction, Pakistan reined in the hosts with a controlled display of intelligent fast bowling.
However, SA's lead of 212 means Pakistan will have to pull off their highest successful fourth-innings chase at this ground and in SA. Historically, chasing at the Wanderers isn't easy and Pakistan have an uneasy time with fourth-innings engagements.
With Pakistan being Pakistan, they could either get there with consummate ease or make a dog's breakfast of the chase. They've done the latter so many times it's difficult to discount them from collapsing in a heap.
But this is Pakistan, a consistently mercurial side with a consistent ability to confound.
However, before they entertain thoughts of what they need to overhaul SA, there's the immovable block that is Hashim Amla they need to detach from the crease before dealing with what's a fair paced but testing surface.
Amla's unbeaten 42 held together SA's careworn second innings batting effort.
Dean Elgar completed a poor Test as captain when he feathered Mohammad Amir while Aiden Markram also gifted Sarfraz Ahmed a catch off Mohammad Abbas. Theunis de Bruyn and Zubayr Hamza were snared by Faheem Ashraf while Shadab Khan got rid of Temba Bavuma.
Amla, though, who remains a massive stumbling block and Quinton de Kock, who displayed a semblance of fluency, stand between Pakistan chasing a middling or difficult target.
Then again, SA's lead is already 27 runs more than the visitors mustered in their first dig and 21 runs more than the 191 they overhauled in Port Elizabeth in 2007 in what remains their last Test win on these shores.
In the four Tests Pakistan have played in Johannesburg, their highest team total is 329 back in 1998.
Having steamrolled SA on the first evening and resumed the day on 17/2, they needed to emulate the class of 1998 that was galvanised by one Azhar Mahmood.
Three hundred and twenty-nine would have been a competitive total, especially with their bowling attack, if their core batting unit showed a semblance of self-discipline and confidence.
Unfortunately, it was sorely lacking, but that's been the story of their series.
The confidence quality, though, was superbly displayed by Ahmed and Babar Azam.
By the time these two came together to stitch up a breezy 78-run, sixth-wicket alliance off just 61 balls, Pakistan had the cream of their underperforming top order back in the dressing room.
They were 91/5 after Imam-ul-Haq's charmed life of a 105-ball 43 was finally terminated by Vernon Philander, who had the southpaw well caught at slip.
Imam and nightwatchman Abbas were the beneficiaries of a first-hour fielding dog show by the hosts.
Abbas was shelled by Bavuma at gully in the 16th over of Philander and by De Kock off Dale Steyn three overs later.
Imam, who showed commendable technical composure in the face of searing and searching bowling examinations, was not only a beneficiary of a double dropped catch by De Bruyn and Elgar off Steyn at the start of the 17th over, but also saw De Kock grass a catch he offered off Kagiso Rabada in the 24th over.
Imam also survived a stumping attempt in the 12th over by De Kock off Philander while he channelled his inner uncle's (Pakistan selection chief and legendary batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq) famed lack of calling when he nearly had Abbas run out subsequent to the De Kock dropped catch.
These lapses were put into perspective in the first over after the drinks break when Olivier stamped his authority on proceedings when he removed Abbas and Asad Shafiq in the space of three balls.
Imam and Babar resurrected what remained of the fort with a 48-run stand before the thrilling, if fleeting, counterattack. In a flurry of punches, drives and pulls, Ahmed raced to a 38-ball 50 with eight fours while Babar's 55-ball 49 contained 10 boundaries.
When they fell within four balls of each other to Rabada and Olivier respectively with the score on 169, the tail was dealt with ruthlessly.
Mohammad Amir's 17-ball 10 was at best token resistance as Olivier manhandled the bowlers to collect his third Test five-wicket haul. The Test enters its third day today, and possibly its last.