Pakistan finished the third day’s play in Rawalpindi 200 runs ahead with four wickets in hand, after yet another spineless batting performance from the Proteas.
The Proteas bowled well in the afternoon session, taking six wickets for 129 runs. That should have been more, but for two dropped catches, neither of those chances being anything more than routine for elite professionals.
Mohammad Rizwan and Faheem Ashraf played freely after the Proteas’ generosity, sharing a 50-run partnership after both being dropped in single figures. Ashraf eventually fell for 29, but on a wicket where fourth-inning runs will be hard to come by for the Proteas, those missed chances could be defining in the final analysis.
Pakistan will most likely be aiming to set South Africa in excess of 300 to win on a deck that is prone to exhibit more variable bounce and take more spin as the Test proceeds. The Proteas’ best hope of victory lies in them chasing around 250, requiring them to blitz the hosts in the first session of day four. Even then the smart money is on Pakistan, given the utter shambles the Proteas’ batting is in at present.
Overall it was a day to remember for Hasan Ali (5-54) and one to forget for the Proteas.
The morning session got off to the worst possible start when Quinton de Kock chopped a wide delivery on to his stumps. However, Wiaan Mulder and Temba Bavuma steadied the Proteas’ innings with some decisive and skilled batting.
Mulder came out with a discernible gameplan, which involved using his feet facing Pakistan’s spinners, with a view to them having to change the line and length.
It was a breath of fresh air after watching a series during which the majority of the Proteas batsmen simply tried to wait for a loose delivery, which, given the quality of Pakistan spin pair Yasir Shah and Nauman Ali, is a rare occurrence.
He and Temba Bavuma shared a 50-run partnership and looked in complete control before Mulder turned blindly for a second run, only to be well short of his ground. Given the hard work that had preceded that, the dismissal was deeply frustrating.
It could have been worse immediately for the Proteas had Pakistan referred a caught-behind appeal off George Linde. Replays showed that Linde had gloved it to skipper and wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan, who then signalled that he thought the ball had come off Linde’s shoulder.
Ultimately, it didn’t cost Pakistan significantly, as Linde was bowled through the gate by Ali for 21. Bavuma and Keshav Mahara saw the session through to its close, South Africa finishing going into tea on 188-7.
Then, it all fell apart. South Africa were all out for 201, their last five wickets falling for just 37 runs, including two run outs. Another Test, another lower-order capitulation. This is becoming an all too familiar occurrence, one that is significantly compromising South Africa’s ability to exert any pressure on the opposition.
Their batting frailty means their bowlers have been in the field for far longer than is healthy. Despite this, they continue to be the best part of the Proteas’ showings on this tour. Keshav Maharaj and Linde bowled brilliantly, taking two and three wickets, respectively, while Kagiso Rabada got rid of Imran Butt.
The Proteas must rescue the series with the ball in the morning session, then bat like they’ve not done for the entire tour.