South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 3rd day February 16, 2013

Peterson's career-best evens up match

Pakistan 338 and 100 for 3 lead South Africa 326 (Peterson 84, de Villiers 61, Ajmal 6-96) by 112 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

A fascinating Test in Cape Town provided its third day of unexpected twists as the man who was the weak link for South Africa on the first day made amends with his first Test half-century in almost a decade to even up the contest. Robin Peterson hadn't been able to stem the runs when Pakistan were batting on the second day, but on the third it was Pakistan who couldn't stop the runs when Peterson was batting. With AB de Villiers also scoring a half-century, South Africa showed their resilience as what could have been a game-deciding lead for Pakistan was trimmed to just 12.

In their second innings, Pakistan's top order once again folded cheaply and South Africa were threatening to run away with the game. However, they were thwarted by a patient partnership between Azhar Ali and Misbah-ul-Haq in the final hour-and-a-half before stumps to leave the match evenly poised. The day ended with a bit of bad news for the hosts, as Morne Morkel sustained a leg injury. He is unlikely to bowl again in this Test.

In the morning, de Villiers had survived another intense examination from the outstanding Saeed Ajmal to play an innings that married classical drives and cuts with chutzpah, as shown by an inventive dink over the slips for four when the ball was banged in short. He reached his half-century off a rare poor ball down the leg side from Ajmal, and if he was beginning to feel comfortable in the middle, Ajmal followed up with a ripping delivery similar to the one that accounted for Faf du Plessis. De Villiers got the edge again but the keeper couldn't hold on to the catch.

Ajmal had begun the day by adding Dean Elgar's wicket to make it six out of six and briefly raised visions of him joining the elite club of Jim Laker and Anil Kumble as the only bowlers to take all ten wickets in an innings. Thoughts of that spectacular feat came to an end when the seven-footer Mohammad Irfan struck with the new ball to dismiss de Villiers for his first Test wicket. He then showed that even in the intense battle of Test cricket there is space for levity, as the towering fast bowler raised his arms in celebration after his team-mates huddled around him, forcing them to jump to high-five him.

Pakistan could have taken total control of the match once de Villiers was dismissed but Peterson again showed how much his batting has improved. He swept Ajmal when the ball was on the pads, cut powerfully when width was provided, and generally began to look more and more settled in the middle. With the help of Vernon Philander, he brought the deficit below 100 before lunch.

Peterson had just begun, though, and opened out after the break with a series of drives as 77 runs came off 13 overs. Besides the scorching drives, there was even a switch-hit off Ajmal. As the score went past 300, Peterson set his sights on a maiden hundred, going for his shots even as he lost his partners. The crowd loved it, and when last man Morne Morkel solidly defended a few deliveries, the fans welcomed it with rousing cheers. Peterson finally perished on 84 as he looked to clear long-on, though he had already done enough to hurt Pakistan by then.

The turnaround continued when South Africa had the ball in hand as, yet again, they removed both openers cheaply. Pakistan's opening stands this series now read 0, 10, 7 and 9. Steyn struck in his first over, with an indipper that had Mohammad Hafeez lbw. Philander joined in with a wicket in his first over, sending back Nasir Jamshed lbw for a duck. Though South Africa's quicks kept asking questions around off stump, Younis Khan and Ali negotiated the new ball till tea. A pumped-up Steyn then delivered the quickest spell of the match, regularly threatening to hit the 150kph mark, and it culminated with him getting Younis to chop on to the stumps.

While the second session was full of runs, the third was the opposite. Ali began with a boundary past square leg that took him to 23 off 23 balls, but he then went into a shell, especially against Peterson, playing out maiden after maiden. He couldn't work the singles, at one stage had managed only five runs off 53 deliveries against Peterson, and just survived a confident lbw appeal.

At the other end, Misbah wasn't in any hurry either, and the pair went through 34 scoreless deliveries early on in their partnership. Misbah was patient as ever, except when he pulled off three of those out-of-the-blue straight sixes he loves to hit.

Many times, the strategy to just block everything against a high-quality attack doesn't work because the lack of runs means the pressure isn't lifted, and when there is a breakthrough, the batting side hasn't made much progress. It worked for Pakistan on the day, though, as it sucked the momentum from a rampant South Africa attack, and steadily increased the lead above 100, setting up an intriguing fourth day.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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