Cape Town, Second Test

South Africa beats Pakistan by 4 wickets

Pakistan are getting closer. But for now, they find themselves 2-0 down in the 3-match series, handing South Africa their 6thtest series win on the trot. What was a walkover in the first test turned into a pulsating affair till the 4th day in the second test at Cape Town. Pakistan’s tour of South Africa 2013 has certainly provided for the viewers some fine examples of competitive test cricket- but it is South Africa’s ability to time and again pull themselves out of ditches that separates them from the rest at the top of the ICC rankings table. This is, of course, a far cry from their well-acquired reputation in limited overs cricket- and they seem to be in the mood to consistently make amends in the longest form of the game, becoming one of those rare teams that dominate test cricket without seeming threatening in ODI or T20 cricket. A lot can change by the time the next World Cup rolls around Down Under in 2015- with them still finding their feet under new ODI captain AB De Villiers, but one can be sure that they could very well still be at the top of the Test Table in 2015.

A South Africa v/s Pakistan series is often billed as a showdown between two of the best bowling sides on the planet. On South African pitches though, it is Dale Steyn that is the difference between both teams- and he provides his team with that added advantage on familiar bouncy pitches, making Pakistan’s batting order look weaker than they already are. His ability to bowl spells that restore faith in the skills of test cricket has helped his more-prolific partner Philander to run through the order consistently. South Africa possesses a perfect balance of proven match-savers, match-winners (bowlers and AB) and young legs: a combination that Kirsten may have masterminded on his arrival, already reaping rich dividends for Smith’s men.

An example of his influence on this team lies in the second test at Cape Town- where Pakistan seem to have learned so splendidly from their capitulation in the first test, steadily advancing into ‘South Africa’ mode. Not for the first time, they had the home team on the ropes after the first 2 days- after putting up their first competitive total of the season. A total of 338 in the first innings, with South Africa 6 wickets down for less than 200 at the end of the second day, could have meant only one thing a few years ago. The odd win for the away team was always a taken for any visiting team to these shores- before the South Africans often woke up in the final test and took the series. Even West Indies, India and Sri Lanka have managed to win a test a piece here- while South Africa went 3 or 4 series without an outright series victory too.

That is where Kirsten has installed discipline. He has maintained the same levels of skill and professionalism in this outfit, but has made it clear to them that slipping will not be tolerated- not to Asian teams that are clueless away from the subcontinent. Hence, their moments of brainfreeze- which were earlier restricted to an entire test match every series- is now restricted to a few sessions every series, enough for Steyn and co. to rescue their batsmen from a dark hole.

Here, it was unlikely hero Robin Peterson who proved that his stint with Mumbai Indians last season seems to have changed his outlook to the game- with his 80+ score taking his team to a 326, frustrating the Pakistanis endlessly after they should have acquired a 100+ lead in the first innings.

That was all they needed. Philander and Steyn smelled blood and destroyed Pakistan in the second innings, leaving their solid batting order 182 to get in the fourth innings. Once again, the top order flattered to deceive- with everyone except the troubled Alviro Petersen getting starts- and Amla leading the chase with a half century (again). A few hiccups followed, and soon, there was no C-word to use anymore.

2-0 up with the Centurion Test to go. South Africa can afford to take it easy, but would not want to give the momentum to a fast-learning inexperienced Pakistani side that could pose them more than a few problems on the spinning pitches of Abu Dhabi in less than a few weeks for the ‘return’ leg of the series. If Ajmal’s 10-for is anything to go by, South Africa’s impressive series-winning streak could come to an end in Abu Dhabi…much like England’s slide began after their disastrous 3-0 loss when they were at the top of the rankings table a couple of seasons ago.

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