Honours even in Centurion

On a hard-fought opening day, South Africa bit back at Pakistan with three wickets in the evening session as the tourists squandered solid early foundations, to leave the honours roughly even in Centurion. From 160-2 at the tea interval, with Yasir Hameed and Younis Khan firmly in control, Pakistan were reduced to 242-5 at the close of play, with their captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, unbeaten on 35.

After Pakistan chose to bat on a pitch offering more than a touch of movement for the seam bowlers, Imran Farhat and Mohammad Hafeez began watchfully against the new ball before both fell in swift succession to Makhaya Ntini. Farhat could only hammer a loose cut stroke to Hasim Amla at point, while Hafeez fell victim to Ntini’s trademark bounce, failing to pull his hands away from a rising delivery that he feathered through to Mark Boucher behind the stumps.

Enter Younis Khan, who spent much of 2006 in the shadow of Mohammad Yousuf, absent from the team for the opening Test due to the imminent birth of his child, yet still managed to amass 1179 runs at an average of over 65. Together with Yasir Hameed, Younis staved off some early scares against Shaun Pollock’s incisive swing before laying into Jacques Kallis to inject momentum into the innings.

At lunch the score was 64-2; by tea a further 96 runs had been added without further loss. With Paul Harris’ left-arm spin not receiving a great deal of assistance from a slow wicket, Younis and Yasir moved through the gears, clattering pulls through mid-wicket, elegantly glancing to leg and slashing through the covers. The early life in the pitch had all but dried up, and the Pakistanis were beginning to party in familiar conditions.

However after tea, Yasir’s technique and mindset appeared to desert him as his form of attack to the seamers switched to an unconvincing hook shot that, after evading the fielders on several occasions, eventually found the sure hands of Ntini at deep fine-leg to give Andre Nel his first wicket of the day. By this stage, Younis had also perished for to a similar fate, pulling Pollock to Nel in the deep to end a partnership of 133. Younis struck ten fours in his 110-ball 68, Yasir eight fours plus a six in his innings of 65 from 135 deliveries.

Inzamam only just avoided making it three victims to the pull shot, when he spooned a pull within feet of Hasim Amla at square-leg to get off the mark, but was soon got to work repairing the earlier damage. The same however could not be said for Faisal Iqbal, who faced 26 balls for his single before he to succumbed to the pull stroke, gloving a catch to Boucher off Jacques Kallis, giving the South African wicket-keeper a world record 367 catches in Test cricket, surpassing that previously held by Australian Ian Healey. Inzamam and Kamran Akmal, who finished unbeaten on 18, ensured that a real collapse did not materialise, perhaps rescuing some of the momentum thrown out of the window by the upper order.

Pakistan 242-5 (84)
Yasir Hameed 65, Younis Khan 68, Inzamam-ul-Haq 35*
Makhaya Ntini 2-52

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