South Africa v Pakistan, 1st Test, Johannesburg, 1st day February 1, 2013

Misbah's Midas touch

Pakistan bowled and fielded with discipline on the opening day, and kept South Africa under pressure right through
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"They are not New Zealand," was one of the wisecracks muttered in the media box more than once. No, they are not.

Pakistan are a world apart from the team that toured earlier, and not just geographically. The five places between them and New Zealand on the Test rankings are the equivalent of many shades of competitiveness and it showed in the way South Africa were challenged. For the first time during this home summer, the No.1 ranked team was put under pressure by a thinking opposition, who delivered the challenge they promised.

Everything Misbah-ul-Haq tried, worked. His bowling tactics proved astute both when he brought on Younis Khan and Mohammed Hafeez for the first time and they nipped out Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers respectively, and when he brought back Junaid Khan with the old ball and gave the second new one to Hafeez mid-over. The only question that could perhaps be asked of the captain was why Hafeez, who finished with 4 for 16, did not bowl earlier than the 71st over.

Misbah's decisions were helped by a fielding performance that stood out for its superb catching and displayed a commitment that is not often associated with Pakistan. The same can be said for their discipline. Instead of tailing off after causing problems upfront, they kept at it.

Umar Gul and Junaid Khan set the tone when they found movement with the new ball, and even though the debutant Rahat Ali did not maintain the same amount of pressure, he operated with one of the other quicks to ensure the cork did not pop.

Junaid's opening exchanges were the most impressive. He moved the ball both ways for six overs, gave away just four runs but did not take a wicket. In that first spell, Sarfraz Ahmed told Junaid to simply keep going with the same intensity and accuracy and a wicket would follow. When he was brought back three overs later, it did.

It took 90 minutes for the breakthrough to come but in that time Pakistan applied pressure unrelentingly. South Africa's openers were tested throughout, by the bounce and by the movement. They were beaten many times, they were unsure which balls to play and which to leave and they made Smith's decision to bat look a brave one.

By lunch, South Africa were sitting uneasily with both openers dismissed in the space of five balls and Pakistan clearly on top of things. But any team with Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla at the crease will not consider themselves in too much trouble. It took sensational fielding and clever bowling to remove both but as soon as Pakistan did, they were the ones that laid down a marker because their dogged determination was paying off.

Pakistan's persistence wore South Africa's patience thin. Four of the top six batsmen gave their wickets away, either through uncertainty outside off stump or weariness of playing the waiting game. As Faf du Plessis said afterwards, South Africa did not feel there was a single bowler they could target and that frustrated them. "Because they've got a lot variation, you never feel like there is a guy to attack," he said.

When South Africa tried aggression, it failed them. Smith survived the early test of swing but then went after a ball he could have left alone, Jacques Kallis could not control the pull after hitting from a wider line than normal, Hashim Amla chased after one and AB de Villiers, after losing patience against Saeed Ajmal, succumbed to Hafeez.

That gave Misbah the opportunity to experiment without it being a major risk. His best move was giving Hafeez the second new-ball, which the bowler said was not part of the initial plan. "We just thought that, with the left-handers at the crease, we would try," Hafeez said. "I had done it a few times before, especially in one-day cricket."

South Africa looked like a side that had not done their homework. Not only did they not expect Hafeez to bowl with the new ball, "because we are used to seeing two seamers upfront," according to du Plessis, but they were also not prepared for the ball that goes on with the arm. "He is a tricky bowler because he skids the ball on and so it was a bit of surprise," du Plessis said. Robin Peterson decided to leave one that he thought might spin away but it slid on and took the top of off stump.

Hafeez's career-best figures ensured Pakistan started the series with the intent one hoped they would display. It also provided a scene-setter to one of the more intricate battles of the series, the one between the captains. While Graeme Smith celebrated a milestone and a birthday, Misbah showed skill in leading his men.

"Misbah is a great character. He makes things very simple," Hafeez said. "The players always want to perform for him and give something to the captain. He's turning out to be one of the best for Pakistan." It is too early to say whether the series could go the same way as the first day, but on this evidence, it has the potential to.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Resultpredictor on February 2, 2013, 9:26 GMT

    Pakistan batting collapsed as usual and great to see Steyn bowling with so much control

  • Surajdon9 on February 2, 2013, 8:20 GMT

    Come on Pakistan Just bat half and a day then lead will be almost 150 which will be more than enough to win and lead series 1-0.all the best.can't wait more to watch hafeez & Nasir batting..Come on Pakistan Now replicate Bowling&Fielding performance with Batting and Put Proteas under serious pressure..all the best Green Army.....

  • Jingoism on February 2, 2013, 7:22 GMT

    Firdose Moonda has rightly said that Apartheids haven't done their homework better. They had forgotten to workout no Hafeez's skills and moreover they had forgotten that he is lethal against southpaws. 80% of his wickets' bag is full of lefthanders.

  • Engr.TahirShah on February 2, 2013, 7:22 GMT

    Well Played Pakistan. Keep the intensity and eagerness and there is no reason, you can't win this test match and the series. For batters, just concentrate hard, keep things simple, don't do careless stuff, avoid doing heroics, stick to the basics, concentrate hard and don't worry about the opposition bowling capabilities. Be always there. Everything you want will take care of itself, if you can do this. Best of Luck Team Pakistan.

  • Pathiyal on February 2, 2013, 6:56 GMT

    gr8 to see mohd hafeez is consistantly contributing to the team! some of the balls really spun yesterday. i was longing to see mohd. irfan that didnt happen. misbah as always lead the team well. credible captaincy as usual from him.

  • Ray24 on February 2, 2013, 6:56 GMT

    Misbah is a better test captain than Imran, look at the records and look at Misbah's team for a comparison.

  • ejsiddiqui on February 2, 2013, 6:05 GMT

    Misbah has never lost a test match as captain except one. The famous Galle Test where the magnitude of bad umpiring was at apex, which Mahela himself acknowledged. Double digit decisions went against Pak team.

  • dummy4fb on February 2, 2013, 5:36 GMT

    lovely start to a test match... South Africa at times seemed that they would go on to score more than three hundred and then pakistan seemed that they were focused and working hard to get them near two hundred. Both the teams played well... It is not the bowling that worries pakistan... They have a superb attack.. awesome one... its the batting.. our batsmen cannot play the moving ball.. lets see wht happens today. IF pakistani batsmen make it past south afric's score even by ten fifteen runs then it is game on.. then we can consider it would be hell of a series to watch.. test cricket is better any day any time if it is competetive...

  • Samy110 on February 2, 2013, 5:26 GMT

    Well I still feel that Pakistan's bowling attack is not of the standards that we usually expect them to be. Pakistan certainly miss the trick y opting Rahat Ali instead of Muhamad Irfan. If it was the case of fitness that ruled Irfan out that Rahat ali is not the fittest bloke around either. Would have been much better to go with Tanvir Ahmed who is far more Experienced than the debutant and he generally pitches the ball in the right areas. Pitching the ball up with the new ball was the order of the day. Rahat is a genuine swing bowler and a new ball bowler. Would be better to start with Rahat with the new ball in the second innings. My predictions for the 1st session of Day 2, Pakistan will be 40/5 at lunch.

  • ishrat1971 on February 2, 2013, 4:19 GMT

    There is a lot of doubt about whether Irfan would last the five days. From an initial assessment of Rahat Ali it seems that the bloke has an ability to swing the ball. Maybe it was just nerves. However he did not bowl badly just did not bowl as well as the other two. As a lot of comments have suggested that the real battle s between the Paki batters and their bowlers. I had my heart in my mouth through the two overs that they bowled yesterday. But the batters not only survived, they looked assured. Game on

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