South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 1st day February 14, 2013

New ball, same problem

Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq almost made the day Pakistan's but a familiar weakness means they still have plenty of work to do

At 33 for 4 in the morning session, Younis Khan's only focus would have been the next ball. And the next one. And the next. Until he could steer Pakistan to safety.

At 238 for 4 in the evening session, he would have had exactly the same thought. The next ball was the new one and so far in this series, that has been Pakistan's undoing.

Lack of footwork, uncertainty outside the off stump and a habit of fishing in waters they could not navigate resulted in their stumbles at the Wanderers. There was the complete collapse in the first innings and even though they negotiated the new ball slightly better at the start of their second innings, they could not see off the second one, losing six wickets in 20.4 overs to speed up South Africa's victory march.

Today was about not repeating that. It may sound simplistic to distil three sessions into ten overs of utmost significance but that was almost the case.

Younis and Asad Shafiq did their job when they came in, with whispers about how many overs Pakistan would last. They managed to block those out. Importantly, they also knew which deliveries to treat in the same way. Both had a fair measure of when to leave, something that was a concern for Pakistan before this match.

Occasionally, their frustration peeped through. Younis wanted to clobber one wide of cover and had an almighty swing but missed and could have taken the edge. Shafiq's eyes grew wide when he saw a short ball from Dale Steyn and top-edged a hook but it went wide of Morne Morkel at fine leg.

But the lapses in concentration were few and they were nullified by the growing confidence of the pair. Shafiq's back-foot play was impressive, he was quick to take advantage of the short ball, whether with the pull shot or the cut. Younis' driving was his hallmark and his footwork was a sign of his self-assurance. He moved to the ball better than any of the line-up has done so far.

They also found a bowler to target, something that was absent in the first Test. Robin Peterson finally got the chance to contribute in a meaningful way but he did not take it. On this occasion, Peterson was required to do a holding job to help the seamers create pressure and force a breakthrough.

Instead, his could not find his length and was guilty of offering too many deliveries that were too full or tossed up too generously and it allowed the pair to settle. Against two batsmen Vernon Philander called "very wristy, who played Robbie well" that was a mistake. Peterson, like Imran Tahir, has said he does not mind going for a few boundaries because it will create chances for him but on a day when the quicks were battling to do the same, it was not what was required of Peterson.

The partnership became the biggest between two overseas batsmen in South Africa in seven years, since New Zealand's Stephen Fleming and James Franklin posted 256 in April 2006 - a match also played at Newlands during the South African autumn. Opposition pairings have not been able to get close to that on pitches that are notoriously difficult for batsmen.

The most telling challenge came with about 40 minutes left in the day and the second new ball looming. Younis and Shafiq had set themselves up well. They had both brought up centuries so the individual butterflies had been put to sleep for the night. Pakistan were in a position they would have been comfortable with and all that was left was to negotiate ten overs of Steyn and Vernon Philander at full throttle.

They began nervously. Steyn had not cranked it up yet but he was getting movement and with his fourth ball had an appeal for lbw against Younis that was given out. He reviewed immediately and Hot Spot showed the edge but the nerves must have been tweaked. Younis ended the over with a four, whipped off his pads, to ease them.

Philander did as Philander does and kept it in the channel outside off but Shafiq was happy to leave most of the over alone. Then Steyn again, no movement but he was bowling closer to the stumps and when Younis moved across to play at one, he almost got a leading edge. Steyn had words, Younis showed him his pearly whites. "This was my tactic, the bowlers were talking and I was just smiling," he said afterwards.

The opening pair soon found their rhythm and began what has become an almost ritual dance. Philander creates the uncertainty with repetition and subtle changes and Steyn kept probing. Shafiq got one away and Pakistan would have thought they might end the day without any further damage but then Philander struck.

A beauty of a ball pitched on a good length and cut through Younis. At first glance it was maybe bat, maybe pad, it could have been caught behind, it could have been lbw. Either way, Philander wanted the review and, perhaps in desperation, Graeme Smith called for it.

Hot Spot, operating to the level it should have been at the Wanderers, revealed the thinnest of edges, so faint that AB de Villiers himself wasn't sure Younis had had a nibble. Younis seemed not to feel it either but the technology sent him on his way two overs before Pakistan could call day one theirs.

Shafiq saw it out with Sarfraz Ahmed but the problem remains. Against the new ball, Pakistan are vulnerable. The current cherry is only ten overs old, which means that the pair of Shafiq and Sarfraz, who are also the last recognised batsmen, will have to see it off to ensure Pakistan can gain an advantage in the morning.

Philander thinks 350 to 400 will be a good score, Younis isn't sure but what is obvious is that Pakistan still have a way to go. If Shafiq can bat as he did in the afternoon and Sarfraz can support him, Pakistan have hopes of getting there and making Younis and Shafiq's partnership really count.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent