The word 'unpredictable' has often been used to describe Pakistan sides over the decades. A month after the gloom in Harare
, with questions hanging over their batting capabilities in Test cricket, they nearly beat the world's No.1 Test side by an innings in Abu Dhabi.
Pakistan took the six remaining wickets on the fourth day to bundle out South Africa for 232, a total lower than their below par first-innings effort, and set themselves a target of 40. They still managed a wobble, though, by losing three wickets for seven runs, but the old hands of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan secured Pakistan's fourth consecutive win against a No. 1 team in the UAE.
Pakistan's winning sequence at their adopted home began when they routed England 3-0 in 2011-12. The ICC Test Championship mace had since changed hands from England to South Africa and the holders appeared rusty after several months of long-format inactivity. Pakistan capitalised on that by dismissing them for 249 before their batsmen found form to take a massive first-innings lead of 193.
Pakistan had strengthened their hold on the Test at the end of the third day by claiming four second-innings wickets, including that of South Africa's best batsman and first-innings centurion, Hashim Amla. On the fourth day, they didn't allow South Africa's deep batting order to develop substantial partnerships either. They had to put with a defiant fifty from AB de Villiers, but his battle was a lonely one. South Africa managed only one half-century stand on the fourth day and the best they could do was stretch the game into the final session.
South Africa had resumed with a defensive mindset on a pitch that was assisting spin, still trailing by 121. Saeed Ajmal was brought on at the start and after five wicketless overs, he was replaced by the debutant left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar. For the second time in the innings, Babar struck in the first over of a spell as he beat Dale Steyn in flight and knocked down his off stump. South Africa's first sign of aggression this morning had cost them a wicket.
Duminy had marked his return to Tests with a fifty in the first innings, but his second stint lasted just five balls, and he reviewed his lbw decision to Junaid Khan in vain. De Villiers didn't get too many loose deliveries to put away and with four close catchers around him against the spinner, his defence had to be watertight. He stepped down the track to Babar and found the boundary past cover, before launching the same bowler for a six down the ground to bring up his fifty.
There was no Adelaide-style jailbreak
from Faf du Plessis, though, as he fell just after lunch for a dour 9 off 55 balls, caught one-handed by Ajmal during his follow through. Robin Peterson was the only player of batting potential left and he added 57 with de Villiers to all but deny Pakistan an innings win. De Villiers played some elegant shots, punching the seamers through cover and punishing anything short from the spinners. Junaid looked to swing the old ball but strayed on to de Villiers' pads a few times and the batsman tucked them away to fine leg to get close to a century.
He was ten short of the milestone when he spooned Junaid straight to cover. Peterson and Vernon Philander gave South Africa the lead before a double-strike by Ajmal in one over limited it to 39.
South Africa's batsmen may have failed to come to terms with the conditions over two innings, but their bowlers did, albeit too late. The fast bowlers had figured out the right lengths with the new ball and Pakistan's top three obliged by edging behind the wicket, rolling back the months to their struggles in South Africa earlier this year. It should never have come down to this but Pakistan were left relying on Misbah and Younis to see them through. For South Africa, it was their first defeat since the Durban Test against Sri Lanka in December 2011, ending a sequence of 15 undefeated Tests.