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Firdose Moonda in Cape Town
February 17, 2013
Just as a captain is supposed to, Misbah-ul-Haq went down with his ship, as Pakistan lost the Newlands Test in four days, and with it the series. He went as far as to say he was responsible for their downfall, a brave but necessary admission from a leader who should not bear all the blame but was willing to do so.
On 114 for 3, Pakistan were 100 runs short of what many thought would have been a total challenging enough to be match-winning. To get there, Misbah had to bat a while longer. He had no problems facing Robin Peterson and was sweeping with ease, until one went wrong. His mistake was that he top-edged to short fine-leg and he acknowledged it was a costly one.
"That was the turning point. After that, the collapse started," Misbah said of his dismissal. "We really blame ourselves. We made mistakes and we couldn't afford to do that."
Pakistan, however, had let themselves down long before Misbah's second-innings dismissal. Allowing Robin Peterson to score 84 at No. 8 and take South Africa to within 12 runs of Pakistan's first-innings total was what Graeme Smith regarded as most significant. "The way Robbie batted was pretty inspirational," he said. "We knew that getting as close as we could to their total was going to be key."
A lack of adequate back up for Saeed Ajmal was Pakistan's main problem and Tanvir Ahmed's selection remained a mystery. Tanvir offered neither pace nor movement and, although his first-innings runs were valuable, he did not perform in the role he was selected for.
Mohammed Hafeez was used too sparingly and brought on too late and as South Africa crept up on Pakistan, they erased the advantage. "The lead should have been 70 or 80 runs," Misbah said.
Although Pakistan began their second innings on level terms, mentally they were behind, and then their openers departed in the space of two overs. "The third innings can be the toughest of the Test match," Smith said. "You've got to make a play and if you are not positive enough the game can get you. That's what happened to Pakistan."
Still, Pakistan entered day four with the opportunity to take control, especially with the knowledge that their nemesis, the new ball, was a session and more away. Their shot selection and decision making let them down though. Asad Shafiq lacked awareness when the ball bounced behind him and he didn't know where it was until it had hit his off stump. Sarfraz Ahmed mysteriously left a Peterson delivery that spun back and bowled him, and Umar Gul chased a wide one.
Feats such as bowling England out for 72 would have inspired Pakistan but Newlands is not the UAE - although Graeme Smith said conditions were "not ideal" for the home side - and South Africa are not England. Like the previous world No.1 side, they struggled against Ajmal and had Pakistan set a higher target, Misbah expected the mindset would have been different.
"Whenever you are chasing 250 in the last innings and Saeed Ajmal is on the opposition side, it is difficult," Misbah said. "And pressure is different when you are chasing 250 to when you are chasing 180. Ajmal really gave us a chance but we could not [put] pressure from both sides and runs were flowing. If we could have bowled more overs and restricted them, it might have been different."
Smith admitted his side did not have a method to counter the Ajmal yet. "It can be guesswork at times. He bowls a quick pace and delayed action makes it difficult to use your feet. The toughest part is to pick which way the ball is going. And he is very consistent and a lands a lot of balls in the right areas."
Ajmal's ten wickets are an achievement that will long be remembered and marvelled at. "He is a world-class bowler and he proved that today against a top quality side by taking ten wickets against South Africa in South Africa," Misbah said. "They know he can cause problems for them."
Pakistan need a lot more of Ajmal's type of discipline to earn a consolation win in Centurion. They have already provided a sterner contest than South Africa have had all summer and have got better over the two matches.
"We lost the Test series but we know we are playing against the No.1 team in the world in their own conditions and we will try to put a better showing there," Misbah said. "We want to stick to the basics and spend time at the crease. There was a little bit of panic today at the time when Peterson was bowling. We can't do that. Experience makes a big difference in this kind of game. You need to have experience to develop."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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