Babar Azam, Fawad Alam steady Pakistan with century stand before rain wipes out third session
South Africa were without a frontline spinner for most of the day after George Linde was forced off the field in the 23rd over after injuring his finger
Pakistan 145 for 3 (Azam 77*, Alam 42*) vs South Africa
A 123-run partnership between Pakistan captain Babar Azam and Karachi Test hero Fawad Alam steadied the hosts from 22 for 3, set them up for a big first-innings score and kept a depleted South African attack at bay.
South Africa were without one of their two frontline spinners, George Linde, from the 23rd over, after he was forced off the field with an injury to the little finger on his bowling hand. Linde hurt himself attempting to field a ball in his follow through and was taken for an x-ray which found no fracture. He was spotted 10 minutes before tea warming up on the sidelines and working on his grip but did not return to action for the rest of the day.
That meant a heavier workload for Keshav Maharaj, who bowled 25 overs almost without a break. Maharaj's first spell, of 19 overs, straddled the first and second session, he was then given an over's break to change ends and was six overs into his spell at tea and was the most successful of the visiting attack.
Maharaj was introduced in the eighth over and should have had a wicket with his first ball when he had Imran Butt pressing forward to defend a delivery that turned away and took the edge but Temba Bavuma, at first slip, put it down. An over later Maharaj had Butt caught behind to end the Pakistan opening stand on 21. The over after he dismissed Azhar Ali lbw for a duck and on the other end, Anrich Nortje got rid of Abid Ali thanks to a stunning catch by Aiden Markram at short leg, who was diving low to his right.
But South Africa made no other inroads; Azam and Alam dug in and the surface seemed to settle after it offered significant turn in the morning. There was not as much for the quicks and after opening with their seamers, South Africa ended up rotating Kagiso Rabada and Nortje while giving allrounder Wiaan Mulder just five overs. As expected, the pitch demands patience from the batsmen, something Alam has in strong supply. While the scoring rate hovered around 2.50 runs an over but runs never seemed impossible to find, especially not for Azam.
The Pakistan captain has played two Test innings in Rawalpindi prior to this match, and both times he scored a hundred. The signs are there that he could convert again. Unlike Alam, who was watchful at the start, Azam started scoring with back-to-back boundaries off Maharaj. His 12 fours included an array of drives and a whip off the waist through square, to reach his fifty, off 81 deliveries. A hallmark of Azam's innings, and South Africa's lacklustre effort so far, is the ease with which he scored runs all around the field - 45 on the off side and 32 on the leg side.
Alam also favoured the off side more, in contrast to the way he batted in Karachi, and provided a perfect foil. He left the ball well, and faced 114 dot balls in his innings to defy a fast-despairing South African attack. South Africa were noticeably quieter in the field than usual and several senior players, including Rassie van der Dussen, Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis, spent time off the park. The team management confirmed there was no stomach bug going around, so one can only assume they were either receiving tactical advice or needed a bit of a break from Azam.
They got an extended one when play did not resume after tea as persistent rain fell for an hour after the break. The covers briefly came off and an inspection was conducted but it was decided to restart play 15 minutes earlier on day two.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent