Faf du Plessis’ century leaves Pakistan with mountain to climb

Cape Town: Faf du Plessis bounced back from his pair at Centurion with a captain’s innings of 103, his ninth Test century and first at his adopted home ground of Newlands, as South Africa ground out an imposing first-innings lead of 205 and counting to leave Pakistan needing an urgent revival of their batting fortunes to stave off a heavy defeat in the second Test.

Though du Plessis’ vigil ended in the final half an hour before stumps, as Sarfraz Ahmed correctly gambled his team’s final review on a thin nick off Shaheen Afridi that had gone unnoticed by the umpire, Quinton de Kock remained unbowed to the close on 55, having settled into his knock following a manic flurry of boundaries and chances in his first dozen deliveries. A side that has yet to pass 200 in any of its three innings in the series to date already has its work cut out in this match – an hour of de Kock mayhem in the morning may push their hopes clean over the brink.

The second day involved more grind than glamour but, for du Plessis, it was a sweet day’s work, and one that was greeted with glee in the home dressing room – not least by his veteran colleague Dale Steyn, who recognised that his captain’s five-and-a-half hours of application across 226 balls had allowed South Africa’s four-pronged pace attack to freshen up with a valuable day of rest.

The same could not be said for Pakistan’s beleaguered pacemen, who toiled with spirit for much of the day but, on a deck on which their legspinner Yasir Shah found little assistance or role, had run out of steam by the close.

Pakistan’s spirits also took a battering in the second hour of the morning session when, in a sliding doors moment that had uncanny parallels with Dean Elgar’s reprieve in the run-chase at Centurion, they were denied the wicket of Temba Bavuma, on 3 at the time, after a low catch to Azhar Ali at slip was contentiously overturned by the third umpire, S Ravi.

In mitigation, it was an excruciatingly close call, with Azhar’s fingers seemingly wrapped around the ball, but with the turf appearing to assist the completion of the catch. However, given that the on-field umpire, Bruce Oxenford, had given a soft signal of ‘out’, Pakistan had plenty reason to feel sore that the benefit of the doubt had again not gone their way.

Bavuma, who had only arrived at the crease in the previous over following Afridi’s extraction of Theunis de Bruyn, grew in stature after his let-off. He set himself for the long haul in an innings of 75 from 162 balls, showing a good awareness of his off stump but also a keen eye for the loose delivery with 10 often blisteringly harvested fours.

In harness with his captain, Bavuma batted clean through the afternoon session in adding 156 for the fifth wicket – the same figure at which South Africa’s fifth wicket would have fallen had Azhar’s catch been upheld.

Though Mohammad Abbas in particular was his usual wobbly self, bowling Hashim Amla with a snorter in his first over of the day and threatening the edge regularly thereafter, neither of the left-armers, Mohammad Amir or Afridi, could find much to trouble Bavuma or du Plessis as they persistently angled the ball across their bows in search of reverse swing, but found little deviation through the air.

The pick of Bavuma’s strokes were a brace of slashed cuts through point early in his stay before he greeted Yasir with a gleeful lofted drive over long-on in the afternoon, and he seemed inked in for his second Test century – and second on this ground – not least when, on 65, he gained his second reprieve of the day, an lbw decision that was overturned on review after being shown to be missing the bails by millimetres.

But then, ten runs later, Afridi produced the killer delivery in the midst of an erratic over. Moments after straying into Bavuma’s pads to gift him another boundary, Afridi got one to straighten and lift on off stump, and kiss the edge through to Sarfraz.

Du Plessis, however, was not to be denied as he marched inexorably towards his hundred, most notably with a series of rasping cover drives, which were unfurled in all their glory whenever Pakistan’s quicks strayed in length. However, amid his moments of fluency, he too had his struggles, not least when he was struck a pair of stinging blows on the bottom hand as Pakistan’s left-armers found extra nip from round the wicket.

The first, from Amir on 34, required running repairs after seemingly squashing a nail on du Plessis’ bottom hand. And the second, from Afridi on 81, had him flinging his bat to the ground in agony after finding the exact same spot. But he gritted his teeth and got on with the job, and when on 96, Sarfraz behind the stumps spilled the simplest of leg-side deflections off the toiling Abbas, he knew it had to be his day.

Sure enough, five balls later, out came that cover drive for the three milestone-sealing runs off Amir, and off came the helmet – not for long, mind you, as Amir sconed him in the same over with an excellently directed bouncer to remind South Africa of the enduring threat in their ranks, even if on this occasion, they are in the process of being overwhelmed.

AlamulKhabar Sports