Misbah leaves SA with a big 'if'
Misbah-ul-Haq had two minutes and the same number of balls to fully enjoy his fourth Test century. His celebration, including a slow-motion, arms-in-the-air acknowledgement to the crowd, took up most of that time. He faced one more ball before being given out lbw and his review was nothing but hopeful.
In that short period was the whole story of Misbah's last few years. Smattered moments of isolated joy, a few prized individuals achievements and lots of going back to the drawing board to start again almost immediately afterwards. Amazingly he has not seemed to mind any of that. He wears responsibility like a badge of honour and never appears overburdened by its ever-growing weight.
The criticism that Misbah bats too slowly, too defensively and does not show any desire to take the game forward bounces off him as though he is protected by an invisible layer of understanding. He knows his approach is often dictated by circumstance, because Pakistan usually require him to rebuild. He is able, as Kipling put it, to "keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you", and he does so with class.
Still, a lack of centuries catches up with any batsman and Misbah would have been aware time was being marked against him. Since May 2011, when his century against West Indies in St Kitts played a starring role in Pakistan's 196-run win, he had had at least three genuine opportunities to go on to triple figures.
In November that year, he was sailing against Sri Lanka but top-edged a slog-sweep on 89, perhaps in impatience given that his strike rate in that innings was under 35. Against England last January, he was well set on 84 when he was given out lbw to Stuart Broad, despite using a review.
The latest was against Zimbabwe in Harare last month. Misbah was fighting to save the Pakistan innings and had done an admirable job of it. He was the only batsman playing comfortably but he ran out of partners in his quest for a century and could have been forgiven any disappointment. Instead, he showed little emotion when asked how much missing out affected him.
"Maybe I've forgotten how to score hundreds," he said then. He brushed it off as a laughing matter even though pressure was building. Somehow he was able to "wait and not be tired by waiting", until the time was right and the platform laid.
In this match, with the openers putting on their best performance in well over a year, a different Misbah emerged. He scored his first runs with a cut through point that was so powerful it seemed to have stupefied the South Africa fielders. He went on to reverse sweep before he even had 20 runs to his name and ended the second day by showing that, even with dusk approaching, half-volleys would be punished.
The Misbah who took Pakistan into the lead on Tuesday did not show the same cautiousness that has become his middle name. There were risks and edges, There were two reviews, one a catch claimed by Smith at first slip when Misbah was on 38 (which bounced), another for caught behind off JP Duminy when on 79.
By then, Misbah was well on his way to a century. He had not slowed down to the drip-drip level we all know he can bat at, even after he lost his well-set partner Khurram Manzoor and had to usher through a man going through a lean patch. Asad Shafiq, who had not gone past 15 runs in his last six innings, called this the match in which he knew he "had to perform well" and said having Misbah as an example helped.
"He is cool and calm, he made me very comfortable and helped me if I was doing the wrong thing," he said. Their 82-run stand took the lead into the zone that South Africa's coach Russell Domingo indicated he would be uncomfortable with. He wanted to limit the damage to between 80 and 100 runs. By the time Shafiq was dismissed, it was already 124.
Without Misbah, a total of that size may not have been possible and it may only have grown as rapidly as it did because of his more forward-looking style of play. Even as the hundred approached, he did not slow down considerably. There was no point in his innings when he was overwhelmed, not even after the hundred came up. When Misbah was dismissed, it was off a ball that South Africa got right.
Dale Steyn managed to bend it back in slightly and Misbah was hit in front of middle stump. There was little debate about the dismissal and his use of the DRS could only have been due to optimism and the importance of his presence to the team cause. His dismissal triggered a mini-collapse, with Pakistan's last five wickets falling for 48 runs but their advantage was already healthy.
Now it will be about ensuring Pakistan finish off by continuing to operate as Misbah does, in a calculated way that epitomises another Kipling line: "If you can dream, and not makes dreams your master. If you can think and not make thoughts your aim." Clear focus is what is required of Pakistan in the final two days and Misbah is the person to lead them in that.
He has been in cricket for too long for the lines of poem to tell him that can have the earth and all that is in it - this time that would be registering victory against South Africa - or that he has become a man. That happened many moons ago, anyway. But a century was a nice reminder that he still has exactly what it takes not just to rescue and lead his team but to play a role in their successes as well.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent