South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 2nd day February 15, 2013

Ajmal masterclass stuns South Africa


South Africa 139 for 5 (Ajmal 5-41) trail Pakistan 338 (Shafiq 111, Younis 111, Philander 5-59) by 199 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

The Cape Town pitch was expected to make Saeed Ajmal a central figure towards the end of the Test but he made an impact as early as the second day, first with the bat in a combative 64-run ninth-wicket stand and then, far more damagingly, with a mesmerising display of spin bowling that left South Africa stuttering for the first time in their home summer.

Though this was not a tailor-made turner for Ajmal, and it had been widely predicted to be a great day for batting, he got the ball to rear up and fizz off the track in an unbroken 25-over spell that could well end up as his greatest performance. The mighty South African batting was nonplussed, and an hour before stumps there was even the outside chance of them being forced to follow-on. And this wasn't even one of those old South African teams who were frazzled by the sight of the turning ball.

Though Pakistan had three specialist quick bowlers, they turned to Ajmal as early as the 12th over, and he bowled unchanged from midway through the second session to stumps. Tanvir Ahmed was a disappointment with the new ball, bowling only around 120kph and not troubling the batsmen much, though he put in an improved second spell. The other two fast bowlers, Umar Gul and debutant Mohammad Irfan, were both regularly around 140kph, but the closest either of them came to a wicket was when Gul had Graeme Smith jabbing a simple catch to second slip, only for the usually reliable Younis Khan to grass the ball.

It was left to Ajmal to do the damage, and he duly delivered a masterclass of spin bowling. Just when the openers were looking settled, Ajmal struck in his second over, getting Smith lbw on the sweep. The umpire turned down the appeal but Ajmal emphatically and repeatedly asked his team-mates to go for the review, which resulted in Smith being sent on his way. He had more success soon after as Alviro Petersen nicked to short leg where Azhar Ali pulled off a smart, low catch.

Ajmal's battle with Hashim Amla, the world's top-ranked batsman, was engrossing, with Amla repeatedly using the reverse-sweep and also frequently shuffling across the stumps to try counter Ajmal. Though Amla seemed to have got on top of Ajmal when he picked off a couple of leg-side boundaries in successive overs, Ajmal emerged the winner as he rapped Amla on the back foot to get him lbw, again after using the DRS.

The DRS has already been one of the most controversial innovations in cricket, diving opinion on many levels, and there was one more talking point when South Africa's most experienced batsman, Jacques Kallis, was adjudged lbw on referral. He was originally given out caught at short leg, and he immediately referred the decision, and the replays suggested there was no edge. The umpires then checked whether it was an lbw, and the predicted path said that it was just shaving leg stump, and that it would stick with the "umpire's call", though the umpire hadn't ruled on whether the ball would hit the stumps. The rules state that when the mode of dismissal changes, the batsman should originally be considered to be not out, which means Kallis should have remained in the middle, but he was given out lbw after much confusion.

That Kallis wicket had South Africa in deep trouble. Soon after, Ajmal produced what was perhaps the ball of the day, as he got one to zip from round the wicket past a befuddled Faf du Plessis, who could only edge it to the slips, where Younis safely pouched it to consign South Africa to 109 for 5.

Several South African batsmen didn't help themselves by taking a guard on or outside off stump, and virtually cut off the off side as a scoring area against Ajmal, adding to the pressure caused by the relentless probing by the spinner.

AB de Villiers and Dean Elgar had some scares but survived the final hour to take South Africa past the follow-on mark to complete one of those rare days when the home side had been outplayed.

It was all so different in the morning when Vernon Philander's love affair with Newlands continued as he bagged another five-for - his ninth in 15 Tests. A quick close to the Pakistan innings seemed imminent when he took three wickets in his first three overs on the second day before Tanvir and Ajmal lifted Pakistan to their highest total in South Africa with a 64-run partnership.

With the ball swerving around, regularly beating the bat and most of the runs being scored through streaky edges past the slips or the leg stump, South Africa were looking forward to an early end to the innings. There was little sign that Tanvir and Ajmal would prove so hard to dislodge. With the pitch easing up, though, they began to look increasingly solid. Ahmed punched Morne Morkel past long-on for four, and Ajmal raised his front foot as he smacked Dale Steyn over midwicket for a boundary, a shot he'll treasure as much as any of his wickets today.

It wasn't till just before lunch that the pair were separated, after which it was all about Ajmal and his bewitching brand of spin bowling.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Smahuta on February 16, 2013, 12:23 GMT

    Thats it, 12 run lead for Pakistan. You could say SA got out of Jail here, but then again so did Pak in their innings with their lower order contributions. Not sure if Morkel is going to bowl so Steyn and philly will have to do the damage for SA with the new ball.

  • Smahuta on February 16, 2013, 12:03 GMT

    SA closing in on a lead now thanks to a great knock by Robbie peterson. only 35 runs behind at the time of this post. Who says SA are losing? This is their fortress and they never give up, NEVER!!! Go for a ton Robbie!!!

  • dummy4fb on February 16, 2013, 11:08 GMT

    @CDUP: Agreed, it's great to see Ajmal doing so well, even if you're South African. Although I hate to see our team losing, there's also something satisfying about Ajmal sticking it to the face of a biased administration that refuses to acknowledge his achievements

  • CDUP on February 16, 2013, 10:55 GMT

    While everyone is arguing about DRS and umpire calls (something that WILL ALWAYS be flawed and will always be a part of cricket) I just want to say how amazing it is (as a South African) to see such a great spin bowler and sportsman at work. Ajmal's spell yesterday was the best bowling I've seen against this SA batting line-up, and his positive attitude compliments his brilliant bowling. If he continues along those lines for the rest of the match (with support from the quicks) then Pakistan should take the win. That said, Amla, Kallis and De Villiers are known to play spin well, so good (disiplined) performances by them in the 2nd innings might just stay the dangerous Ajmal.

  • Anonymous_dude on February 16, 2013, 10:24 GMT

    I do not understand. If 3rd umpire can call a batsmen back after being dismissed by the on-field umpire on checking replays confirming a no ball, why can't the 3rd umpire call the batsmen out after checking replays that it is not a no ball? this is absolutely bemusing! Perhaps, this should be raised to ICC!

  • humi_cric on February 16, 2013, 10:21 GMT

    Philander was out (wasn't no ball), now should ICC again apologize, very poor umpiring.

  • Harmony_not_Discord on February 16, 2013, 10:20 GMT

    Irfan got the edge of Philander but given no ball by the umpire that wasn't. Poor umpiring again.

  • Syed_imran_abbas on February 16, 2013, 9:43 GMT

    sarfaraz is not good enough.. he cant pick ajmal and he doesnt score.. they should have rather try with mohammad rizwan or adnan akmal.

  • Syed_imran_abbas on February 16, 2013, 9:29 GMT

    u cant efford to give ab so many chances

  • dummy4fb on February 16, 2013, 9:12 GMT

    It is great to see the Pakistan team showing fight. They have some excellent players. Younis Khan has always been a favourite of mine - great temperament. Still hoping that Graeme can be rewarded for the fantastic service he has given SA over his 100 tests. Either way, it is certainly more exciting to watch than the previous test.