The heavens opened and halted play for a day during which Pakistan recovered from 22-3 to take control of the first Test in Rawalpindi against South Africa.
The final session was set up to be decisive. South Africa had started the Test better, taking three wickets in the morning session. However, Babar Azam and Fawad Alam responded with an unbroken 123-run partnership going into tea. That was when rain started to pour to ultimately bring a premature end to play.
That Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat at a ground where four of the last five Tests have been won by the team batting second, said everything you needed to know about the pitch’s preparation.
Although hard, the wicket wasn’t typical of Rawalpindi, featuring almost no grass and plenty of fault lines, which will undoubtedly become cracks that influence the ball’s path significantly as the Test progresses.
Considering that day one was likely to be the best for batting, it was imperative that the Proteas not only restricted Pakistan’s run-scoring, but exploited what assistance there was to take wickets. They did just that, with Keshav Maharaj proving to be an unlikely source of joy so early in the Test.
The spinner was brought on in the seventh over and knicked Imran Butt off with his first delivery, only to see it dropped by Temba Bavuma at slip. It mattered not, as Maharaj dismissed Butt when a delivery that pitched on middle-and-off stump spun appreciably and brushed his outside edge en route to Quinton de Kock.
He then did Azhar Ali in with the flight, drifting the ball towards a middle-and-leg line from a wide starting point, which forced Ali to overcommit to that line. The ball pitched and struck his pad, Ali not even bothering to review.
Anrich Nortje then chipped in, Abid Ali fending off a vicious bouncer to short leg, where Aiden Markram took an impossibly brilliant catch.
Alam and Azam then settled things down, pouncing on poor deliveries to revive the innings from the once-perilous 22-3. The pair saw Pakistan to lunch, the hosts finishing on 63-3.
They excelled after the break, looking assured and determined against a Proteas attack that just couldn’t find its groove in the manner it did in the morning session.
Their struggle was compounded by the loss of George Linde, who went to hospital for scans on a pinky finger that was struck while trying to field a hard drive down the ground.
Thankfully, he returned just before the close of the session (no break found), and the Proteas will hope he is able to operate at optimal potency in partnership with Maharaj as the Test matures.
The Proteas weren’t particularly generous, indeed there were spells where they built some pressure. However, they were never able to sustain that to the point where it made either Azam (77*) or Alam (42*) divert from their gameplan.