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Pakistan fightback leaves Test in the balance

South Africa 131 for 5 (Prince 18*, Harris 0*) trail Pakistan 157 (Yousuf 83, Kallis 4-42, Ntini 4-44) by 26 runs

This has been a series of fast forward cricket and the start of the decisive Test at Newlands was no different as Pakistan refused to lie down despite numerous setbacks. After their batting folded for 157 on a spicy surface they claimed five South Africans before the close to leave the final chapter of this mini-classic still unwritten.

Nobody wants to see an enthralling Test series meandering to an anticlimactic finish on a dead track and courtesy of a two-tone surface reminiscent of Edgbaston in 1995, which left everyone scratching their heads in the morning, there is little chance of that type of ending. Only two batsmen flourished; Mohammad Yousuf, with a late-innings onslaught after the Pakistan top order folded, and Graeme Smith with a grafting effort after South Africa had threatened a similar implosion against Mohammad Asif.

Yousuf's innings cannot be underestimated. It lifted Pakistan from 90 for 6 to marginal respectability, and it could yet carry the same significance as Inzamam-ul-Haq's unbeaten 92 at Port Elizabeth. When Asif began South Africa's reply with the quick wickets of Boeta Dippenaar - third ball on his Test return - and Hashim Amla, Pakistan were right back in the match.

Asif, as he'd done in the previous Test, was making the ball swing and seam on command despite the enormous workload on his shoulders. But there wasn't any pressure coming from the other end as Mohammad Sami and Shahid Nazir began with poor spells. However, the supporting cast slowly began to hit their straps and their second stints with the ball provided vital breakthroughs.

Smith and Jacques Kallis had pushed South Africa towards three figures with the pitch losing some of its venom. Almost out of nowhere Sami found Kallis's inside edge then Inzamam pulled off a moment of brilliance in the slips. Smith was playing a battling innings but when he wafted at Nazir, Inzamam's left hand shot out at first slip to intercept a ball that was nearly past him. As always with Inzamam there was little emotion and almost bemusement on his face.

Kaneria provided a huge fillip moments before the close as he stitched up AB de Villiers with the perfect googly, but Pakistan could yet pay for a missed chance in the final half hour. Ashwell Prince was handed a life by Kamran Akmal who missed another stumping off Kaneria. As in the second Test, any lead will be a crucial advantage.

The small margins of error that Pakistan are playing with are a result of their batting being blown away in less than two sessions. Even without the services of Shaun Pollock and Andre Nel, rested ahead of the World Cup, Smith had plenty of firepower available and Kallis took up much of the slack with his four wickets.

But the identity of the man who started the removal operations should surprise no-one; Makhaya Ntini would run through a brick wall for his captain despite his immense workload this season. He removed Mohammad Hafeez as he nicked a comfortable catch to de Villiers at third slip and it didn't take long to dispatch Yasir Hameed through another edge into the cordon.

With Pollock putting his feet up in Durban, Kallis was promoted to first-change and soon opened his wicket tally when Farhat's half-hearted pokes eventually brought an edge to first slip. His second came when Younis Khan's horrible flat-footed waft was acrobatically held by de Villiers who, while hardly being able to buy a run, is plucking catches with ease.

Inzamam's effort with the tail last week rescued Pakistan's innings, but this time he fell cheaply as Andrew Hall squared him up with a beautiful outswinger. This left the pressure on another member of the middle-order powerhouse. After Akmal had also slashed into the slips, Yousuf decided it was all or nothing and unleashed an array of stunningly executed drives. He was twice aided by wild South African throws that went to the boundary, speeding him to his half century off 60 balls, and the fifty stand with Sami arrived at more than a run-a-ball.

However, the return of Kallis brought the breakthrough as Sami swatted loosely and the rest of the lower order showed a disappointing lack of common sense. Yousuf was the last man to go, a fourth wicket for the unstoppable Ntini, but he had at least offered something to the Pakistan cause. However, the twists and turns just kept on coming and another mouth-watering battle is shaping up. Just don't blink, or you might miss it.

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