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Sublime Amla leads lone resistance

Batsman hits 20th Test century as Pakistan bowlers dominate opening day, leaving South Africa 245 for 8

Sublime Amla leads lone resistance - Cricket News
Hashim Amla scored a sublime, unbeaten 118 from 250 deliveries.
Hashim Amla could comfortably claim to have outplayed Pakistan on the opening day of the first Test at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Monday (October 14) – but his team-mates were played off the park as South Africa slumped to 245 for 8 by the close of play after choosing to bat first. 

Amla became the fourth South African to reach 20 Test centuries with a sublime, unbeaten 118 from 250 deliveries, but will need to squeeze another hundred or so out of his two partners if South Africa is to reach anything remotely worthy of a placid batting pitch. 

Zulfiqar Babar, the 34-year-old debutant left-arm spinner, was the pick of Pakistan’s bowlers with 3 for 89 in 27 overs, but each member of the four-man attack enjoyed some reward on a day of hard toil.  

South Africa’s concerns about Mohammad Irfan, the giant left-arm seamer, in South Africa six months ago touched on paranoia, with batsmen facing throwdowns from team-mates standing on cooler boxes in order to replicate the height they would receive the ball from. 

Those concerns proved to be prophetic for Alviro Petersen, however, when the opener was unable to cope with the extra bounce generated by the seven-foot Irfan in just the third over of the innings. The delivery popped up off an inside edge to Shan Masood at short leg, where the Kuwaiti-born debutant fumbled a low catch before hanging on at the second attempt. Ian Gould, the third umpire, who had a busy day, was asked to confirm the catch. 

Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, became Irfan’s second opening spell victim after standing his ground to a confident caught-behind appeal. Smith didn’t flinch, never mind look behind him, when another lifter flew past the outside edge but Adnan Akmal never hesitated in telling Misbah-ul-Haq to review the decision. 

A sound was clearly heard on the first replay and, with no other obvious contact between bat and anything else, Gould’s decision wasn’t difficult – although he made doubly sure with the aid of several more replays. 

Jacques Kallis and Amla appeared to have survived the early bounce, such as it was from everyone but Irfan, but it was a little of an even rarer commodity – swing – which accounted for Kallis, who drove at a Junaid Khan delivery from around the wicket which moved just enough to find a delicate inside edge. Akmal made a tricky catch look easier than it was. 

AB de Villiers admitted before the Test that he, personally, had fond memories of the venue after a then national record score of 278 in late 2010, although he was also quick to admit that the pitch had been “far too flat for good Test cricket.” His memories of the ground will have a nasty side now too, tinged with a good slice of acute embarrassment following a dismissal of comic farce. 

Having pushed forward to Babar and seen the ball bobble away to slip chased by a loud lbw appeal, de Villiers was so convinced of his safety – both outside the line of off stump and a long way forward – that he maintained his position long enough for Rod Tucker, the umpire, to have a long look. 

It was also long enough for Younis Khan at slip to admire how far forward de Villiers had stretched – and to flick the ball to Akmal with a silent glance and nod towards the stumps. Akmal understood and, without alerting the batsman to his error, flicked the bails off and appealed aggressively towards Paul Reiffel, the square-leg umpire who, passed it along upstairs to Gould. Half a dozen replays showed conclusively that there was nothing behind the line and a non-plussed de Villiers left the field shaking his head. 

Babar made absolutely certain that it was Pakistan’s day with a rapid trio of wickets an hour after the tea break when Amla and JP Duminy added 95 for the fifth wicket to take the score from 104 for 4 to 199 for 4 and set the innings up for genuine recovery. Setting a meticulous field and bowling a tempting length, Babar persuaded Duminy to sweep and was rewarded with a top edge to backward square leg. 

South Africa’s ‘seven specialist batsmen’ strategy earned it just a single, when Faf du Plessis edged a sharp turner to second slip and Robin Peterson had no answer to another sharp turner which bowled him between bat and pad. Vernon Philander’s review of a Saeed Ajmal lbw against him was unsuccessful when the ball was shown to be hitting the top, outside corner of leg stump. 

Amla was accompanied for the final eight overs of the day by Dale Steyn who would have enjoyed his batting – but not the close-up view of just how innocuous the surface really is. Pakistan bowled well, but South Africa batted worse.

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