Babar Azam held Pakistan together against a brilliant South African bowling attack in Centurion with a defiant 71 off 79 balls that included 15 fours, and is Anitha Madikizela’s pick for Play of the Day.
Having been at SuperSport Park for the historic first Boxing Day Test at the inland venue, nothing can describe the anticipation and excitement buzzing around the stadium.
Plenty of fans came to witness the occasion, and with day one tickets completely sold out, the home crowd had plenty to cheer as the Proteas had Pakistan reeling at 62-4 in the 18th over.
Babar Azam had to be both fearless and relentless against the well-drilled pace attack from South Africa for him to rescue a respectable first-innings total after a catastrophic collapse at the top of the order – following his team’s choice to bat first.
The No 6 batsman bravely navigated through a nervous start, with the destructive Proteas’ trio of Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier peppering the sub-continental batsman with some well-directed short deliveries in an effort to rattle him.
After surviving the initial onslaught, Azam took matters into his own hands as he replied with a brilliant counter-attack that certainly stunned and silenced the home faithful. He didn’t look like a man playing for the first time in South Africa when he smashed a sensational 15 fours on his way to 71 runs at an 89.87 strike rate.
The highlight of his innings was undoubtedly when he effortlessly dispatched Steyn all around the field with four boundaries after having reached his half-century. That counterattack resulted in the veteran bowler conceding a mammoth 16 runs in the over before being removed from the attack.
Azam’s heroics carried Pakistan from a calamitous 62-4 to a much more respectable 178-9 when he finally lost his wicket at the hands of Rabada.
The intriguing first Test will resume on Thursday with South Africa on a precarious 127-5. Temba Bavuma and Steyn will look to chip away at Pakistan’s 54-run lead, and I’m certainly looking forward to all the action from day two at the buzzing SuperSport Park.
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images