1st Test, Abu Dhabi

Pakistan v South Africa, 2013-14


Misbah-ul-Haq raises his arms after reaching a century, Pakistan v South Africa, 1st Test, 3rd day, Abu Dhabi, October 16, 2013
Misbah-ul-Haq raises his arms after reaching a century in Pakistan's first innings. © AFP
Enlarge
Related Links

At Abu Dhabi, October 14-17, 2013. Pakistan won by seven wickets. Toss: South Africa. Test debuts: Shan Masood, Zulfiqar Babar.
South Africa should have known. Given where Pakistan were coming from, both on and off the field, the tourists should have twigged that no force on earth could bring them victory in this Test. A month earlier, Pakistan had failed to chase 264 against Zimbabwe at Harare, and lost by 24 runs. In the summer months running into this tour, a judicial coup had hamstrung Pakistan's administration even more than usual. Then, on the eve of this series, Saeed Ajmal chose to question why the team needed a foreign coach.

In fact, when Misbah-ul-Haq walked out for the toss with a full and ready XI waiting to take the field, it was a minor victory in itself. So complicated had the PCB's latest wrangle become that the Islamabad High Court had stopped Najam Sethi, an interim chairman appointed to replace one who had been elected through a dubious process, from taking any day-to-day decisions. Sethi was prevented from appointing a chief selector, which theoretically meant Pakistan could not actually choose a side. On the second day of the match, on the verge of missing a court deadline which had demanded the PCB hold fair elections to elect a new, permanent chairman, Pakistan's prime minister Nawaz Sharif dissolved the executive and officially turned it into what it had been for so long anyway: an ad hoc board. It was given a sexier acronym, though: Sethi was now heading an IMC (Interim Management Committee).

Pakistan were in a complete mess. So of course they won this Test and, despite a late wobble, won it convincingly. One of their broadest platforms was their sixth different opening pair in seven Tests, after Mohammad Hafeez was dropped following 12 innings without a fifty. Shan Masood made his debut on his 24th birthday - the third Test player born in nearby Kuwait, after Shakeel Ahmed and Tanvir Ahmed - and he and Khurram Manzoor put on 135 on the second day, Pakistan's first century opening stand for 21 months.

That partnership ate healthily into South Africa's inadequate first innings. They had been undone on the opening day by a smart attack, full of bowlers who knew precisely what to do on a deceptive surface. It is always good to bat at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, but if the right length can be found early by faster bowlers, rewards can be had. Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan, forgoing the natural length his height seemed to demand, went fuller and cashed in - even if Irfan was fortunate to escape several no-balls missed by umpire Paul Reiffel.

What pickings they left, the spinners mopped up; slow left-armer Zulfiqar Babar, Pakistan's fourth-oldest debutant at nearly 35, was especially good. They were helped by a careless moment from de Villiers, who dragged his back foot out of the crease while holding the pose on a forward thrust designed to deter the umpire from giving him lbw; Younis Khan threw the ball in from slip to run him out. Amla stood out, playing the spinners with unerring assurance off the back foot to score his 20th Test hundred.

One reason why Manzoor and Masood added as many - and both gave chances early - was that Steyn, Philander (playing his first Test in Asia) and Morkel did not hit those fuller lengths or attack the stumps enough. Pakistan knew patience was key, and went about building their lead gradually by picking off the spin of Peterson and Duminy. Manzoor fell early on the third day, for a punchy maiden hundred and the highest score for Pakistan against South Africa - beating Azhar Mahmood's 136 at Johannesburg in 1997-98. For once, that left Misbah with a healthy situation in which to bat. Thus unburdened, he played one of his most fluent Test innings. When he reached three figures in the afternoon - at a more advanced age (39 years, 141 days) than any centurion since Graham Gooch in 1994 - he celebrated it with unusually expressive but understandable vigour: this was a first international century in two and a half years for a man whose bloody-minded batting is often the butt of ridicule. It secured a lead of 193, which, on a surface now assisting spin, was more than enough.

The South Africans struggled a second time, none more so than Kallis, who was worked out - rather than over - by Junaid twice in the match. De Villiers made up for his first-innings aberration with an accomplished 90, but Pakistan's attack was a potent collective: none of the four bowlers ended with fewer than four wickets, none more than Saeed Ajmal's six. Whenever Misbah turned to one of them, it seemed to bring a wicket.

Steyn and Philander finally figured out the right lengths in the second innings, and gave Pakistan an almighty scare by leaving them seven for three, chasing just 40. That recalibration would prove critical in the following Test, but here it ended with Misbah first stabilising the innings, then launching Peterson into the sightscreen to seal a notable win. It brought to an end South Africa's 15-match unbeaten run, a sequence unsurpassed in their Test history.

Man of the Match: Khurram Manzoor.
Close of play: first day, South Africa 245-8 (Amla 118, Steyn 13); second day, Pakistan 263-3 (Khurram Manzoor 131, Misbah-ul-Haq 44); third day, South Africa 72-4 (de Villiers 11, Steyn 0).

© John Wisden & Co.