Pakistan on top despite Gibbs's 98
The vital wicket: Mushtaq Ahmed celebrates after nailing Herschelle Gibbs
Close South Africa 256 for 9 (Gibbs 98, Shabbir 4-63)
Herschelle Gibbs played a sublime innings of 98, but Pakistan took the honours on the first day of the second Test at Faisalabad. Despite losing the toss and being asked to bowl first on a shirtfront, Pakistan's bowlers stuck to the disciplines of line and length, and were rewarded with wickets at regular intervals, as South Africa closed the day on 256 for 9.
The day was played out in three parts: Pakistan took the early initiative, reducing South Africa to 40 for 3, Gibbs then revived the innings in a 108-run stand with Gary Kirten (54), before Pakistan hit back, taking the last four wickets for just 44 runs.
All the Pakistani bowlers, with the exception of a patchy Mushtaq Ahmed, bowled with superb control, but the pick of the lot was Shabbir Ahmed. The absence of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami - who pulled out due to illness - reduced Pakistan's new-ball attack from lightening quick to medium fast, but Shabbir Ahmed made up for the lack of sheer pace by maintaining excellent control over line and length, and moving the ball both ways off the seam. The pitch was bare and dry, but Shabbir's high-arm action helped him get lift even off an unresponsive surface. He ended the day with figures of 4 for 63, just rewards for a large-hearted performance. Danish Kaneria took just one wicket, but tormented the batsmen with his control, flight and turn. He bowled 32 overs in the day, and kept up the pressure relentlessly, conceding less than two runs per over.
The Pakistan attack performed admirably, but South Africa let themselves down with some sloppy batting. Graeme Smith (2) led the way in that regard, flailing at a full and wide delivery from Shabbir, and edging to Inzamam-ul-Haq at first slip (6 for 1). Two more attempted cover-drives and two more snicks later, South Africa were in danger of losing the plot in the first morning itself, as both Boeta Dippenaar and Jacques Kallis fell to catches by Taufeeq Umar in the slips.
Gibbs and Kirsten then stemmed the rot with a sensible partnership. Gibbs had scratched a half-century in the second innings of the first Test, but his effort here was far more convincing. Secure in defence, Gibbs was quick to punish even a slight error in length, producing some gorgeous drives down the ground and through cover. And when the spinners came on to bowl, Gibbs wasn't afraid to use his feet, coming down the pitch and tonking Shoaib Malik over his head for four. Mushtaq suffered the most, with Gibbs lofting a straight six and then contemptuously putting away a short ball for four in the same over shortly before tea.
Kirsten's was a typically workmanlike innings. He started off by nudging the ones and twos, then opened out briefly after lunch with some crisp cover-drives and flicks to square leg, before settling down into defensive mode once more. Pakistan's bowlers, however, choked the runs well in the afternoon session, and were soon rewarded when Kirsten attempted to cut one which was too full and too close to the body, and edged to slip, where Taufeeq held his third catch of the day (148 for 4).
Neil McKenzie wasn't entirely convincing in his knock, but helped add 47 more for the fifth wicket, before Mushtaq - who struggled for rhythm throughout the day - struck the most crucial blow for Pakistan. Eager to get to his hundred, Gibbs shuffled across his stumps to turn a googly away to leg, missed, and was trapped plumb in front (195 for 5).
The momentum shifted, and Pakistan held sway for the rest of the day. McKenzie slapped a cut to Mushtaq at deep gully (212 for 6), and then South Africa's lower middle order, which can usually be relied upon to add on a few crucial runs, succumbed to the second new ball. Abdul Razzaq's second delivery with the new ball crashed through Mark Boucher's defences, while Robin Peterson's hoick to leg off Shabbir was comfortably taken at the square-leg boundary. In between those two dismissals, Shabbir showed his fielding prowess too, getting to the ball quickly and hitting the stumps with a back-handed flick to run out Shaun Pollock.
In their only previous Test at this venue - which started six years ago to the day - South Africa managed to get out of jail, thanks to a virtuoso performance by Pollock, who took 5 for 37 and dismissed Pakistan for 92 as they chased a victory target of 146. Smith needs a similar inspirational performance from his bowlers here to get back in this Test, and the series.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.