Aiden Markram scored 74, anchoring the innings as the Proteas wiped out a 158-run deficit, but the tourists lost three late wickets to leave them 29 runs ahead with just six wickets in hand.
It all looked so good for the Proteas until deep into the day’s play. Markram and Rassie van der Dussen shared a 127-run second-wicket stand that gave the Proteas control of the Test. But everything changed in the space of an hour, the Proteas losing three wickets – Van der Dussen, Faf du Plessis and Markram – for just 10 runs.
It left the Proteas at effectively 29-4 going into day four, with just Temba Bavuma left as a specialist batsman. Credit must go to Yasir Shah and Nauman Ali, who refused to relinquish the pressure despite having no joy for the bulk of the day. The Proteas will need to find answers to their examination on day four if they are to post a defendable target.
There were small positives to extract, not least of all Markram’s resistance. A beautiful delivery dismissed him in the first innings, after he’d looked really good. This time around he stood firm, facing 224 deliveries for his runs. It made a statement of intent, and the Proteas will hope someone mimics his resistance to endure deep into the fourth day.
His accomplice in the resistance, Van der Dussen (64), was equally good, showing excellent technique and application against balls that were spinning and reverse swinging appreciably. Variable bounce further complicated matters. Shah did him in the flight to dismiss him, but he can be proud of an effort that gave the Proteas hope, albeit temporary, of victory.
Any thoughts of this looked a long way off when Pakistan added runs quickly in the morning session to get 158 ahead and put the Proteas under immense pressure.
Pakistan came into day on 308-8 and added 70 runs in quick time. However, the more important stat is that Pakistan’s last six wickets added an incredible 351 runs to the total.
It would be remiss not to celebrate Pakistan’s skill, determination and application. However, apart from an excellent spell at the end of day one, the Proteas bowlers were impotent.
They had neither the technical skills or tactical astuteness to build any significant pressure on the Pakistan batsmen.
The fast bowlers struggled to exploit reverse swing to their advantage with the regularity they needed to, while the spinners posed very little threat. This brought a steady stream of runs, and was also responsible for Pakistan’s tail adding runs quickly in the morning session.
Eventually the Proteas dismissed them, but a lead of 158 puts them under immense pressure. Dean Elgar and Markram survived through to lunch, however, incessant pressure built thereafter accounted for Elgar.
The opener was being tied down through Shah’s accuracy, and opted to sweep him from out of the rough. The ball caught a bottom edge and spat of his pad towards Mohammad Rizwan, who took a sharp catch.
The Proteas, got to 84-1 at tea (trailing by 74 runs), and were watchful throughout their batting innings, particularly against the Hasan Ali-Shah bowling partnership. Shah was predictably the most threatening of the hosts’ bowlers, especially when he found the footmarks outside the left-hander’s off-stump.
Markram looked determined and organised, evidenced by his 34* off 129 deliveries by team. He played like a man aware that his Test career is on the line, which it is. He found a willing and able accomplice in Van der Dussen, who could be seen and heard constantly encouraging his partner to stick to the gameplan.
Then it all went south. The lost wickets have completely changed the game’s complexion and the responsibility of building a defendable target now falls primarily to skipper Quinton de Kock, who is at the crease with nightwatchman Keshav Maharaj.