South Africa in control, but hit by ball-tampering penalty
Pakistan 99 and 132 for 4 trail South Africa 517 (Smith 234, de Villiers 164, Ajmal 6-151) by 286 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
South Africa's march towards a result that will draw the series and prolong their seven-year unbeaten record away from home continued unabated, but the gloss on their seemingly impeccable performance was lost when the on-field umpires penalised them for tampering with the ball. Graeme Smith's team ended the third day needing six wickets to complete an emphatic victory - probably by an innings considering Pakistan were still trailing by 286 with two days remaining - but the likelihood of a meeting with the Match Referee loomed large as the sun set in Dubai.
The incident occurred two overs after tea, before the start of the 31st over, following television visuals of one player rubbing the ball allegedly on the zipper of his trouser pocket. The umpires Ian Gould and Rod Tucker called Graeme Smith over for a chat and subsequently changed the ball and awarded a five-run penalty against South Africa, sanctions that are consistent with the penalty for unlawfully changing the condition of the ball. A second television visual showed another player allegedly picking at the side of the ball with his finger.
On either side of that unsavoury episode, however, South Africa made strides towards victory, albeit not at the pace at which they had shut Pakistan out of the Test over the first two days. After South Africa were dismissed for 517 with a lead of 418, 16 minutes before lunch, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander punched Pakistan in the gut by dismissing their openers in their only overs before the break.
Steyn swung the ball back into Shan Masood's front pad and the left-hand batsman continued Pakistan's lousy use of reviews by wasting one on an lbw that was plumb. Philander then handed Khurram Manzoor his first pair in Test cricket; the right-hand batsman hung his bat outside off stump and watched Jacques Kallis dive to his right at second slip to take the catch at head height. Pakistan were 2 for 2.
After lunch, Younis Khan and Azhar Ali focused on survival. Steyn swung and seamed the new ball away from the right-handers; Philander bowled with unrelenting accuracy; Morne Morkel hit speeds off 149.6 kph - the fastest ball of the Test - in his first over. With four slips and other catches in place, there were gaps to exploit on the huge outfield but only 18 runs were scored in the first 13 overs. One of Tahir's legbreaks spun so viciously from the rough around off stump that it went straight to first slip.
Azhar and Younis, however, survived all that until Smith brought on the part-time offspinner JP Duminy ten minutes before tea. His first ball spun sharply into Azhar and kept low to hit the back pad just in line with off stump. In an instant, a vast amount of hard graft had come undone and Pakistan were 48 for 3. Duminy could have struck in his second over, too, but Kallis failed to catch an outside edge from Younis off the penultimate ball before the break.
Younis' composure, which had served him well through the second session, disappeared soon after the tampering incident, when he charged Tahir and attempted a mow across the line. He missed and the ball bounced off his pad on to his stumps. At 70 for 4, Pakistan were in danger of sliding further towards defeat but Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq put on an unbeaten 62-run stand. Shafiq was fortunate to survive a stumping chance on 18 off Duminy, and Pakistan will need a miraculous performance from him and the rest to prevent an innings defeat.
The third day had begun with promise of more records being broken, with Smith resuming on 227 and de Villiers on 157. However, with the job already done unlike when they had come together early on the second day, their stroke-play wasn't as tight.
De Villiers began to drive at Mohammad Irfan from the start, but a ball after he placed one to the straight boundary, he drove again and edged. This time Adnan Akmal caught it, 164 runs and 273 deliveries after he should have caught de Villiers first ball. Irfan had now worked up a brisk pace and soon drew an edge from Smith. Akmal dropped it again, and Irfan told the wicketkeeper just what he thought of that effort. The mistake did not cost Pakistan, though, because Ajmal had Smith caught at slip a ball later, leaving South Africa 478 for 6.
What followed made Pakistan wonder about the different paths this match might have taken had Akmal not dropped de Villiers before he had scored. Irfan ran in from over the wicket and tormented Duminy with deliveries that pitched on a good length outside off stump and jagged into the left-handed batsman. Three times in a row, Irfan struck Duminy on the pad and bellowed appeals for lbw. He was denied each time because the impact was too high.
In his next over, after hitting Faf du Plessis on the glove, Irfan took the umpire out of the equation by bowling Duminy between bat and pad with a fuller delivery. He celebrated with vigour, but in his next over - the innings' 149th - Irfan ran out of rope the umpires had given him by following through on the danger area once again. He was suspended from bowling further in the innings.
With Irfan lost, and Junaid Khan blunt, Ajmal was the only threat and du Plessis steered South Africa past 500 and the lead past 400. Ajmal gradually worked his way through the tail to pick up a six-wicket haul, but the end of South Africa's innings provided little relief for Pakistan.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo