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  1. 165

Pakistan tail set South Africa tricky total

South Africa 417 and 69 for 2 (Amla 17*, Harris 1*) need another 130 runs to beat Pakistan 313 and 302 (Farhat 68, Nazir 40)

After three intriguing days' cricket, the fourth could so easily have swung heavily in the favour of one side. Fortunately, it was the most stimulating so far owing to an unlikely yet thrilling flick of the Pakistani tail which helped set South Africa 199 to win the first Test at Centurion. It was spectacular wagging, even though it may not be quite enough to prevent South Africa taking a 1-0 lead in the series.

In 17 overs of carefree exuberance, Pakistan's tail put on 103, transforming their innings and nearly altering the state of the match. At the very least it left South Africa bemused and becalmed. At most, they could wonder why their captain chose to take the new ball when the old one had scythed through Pakistan's middle-order.

Before the excitement came the humdrum. Pakistan gave the impression of batting on an uncovered Headingley green-top from the 1960s in the morning session, with their leaden feet and static run-rate. Imran Farhat and Younis Khan lacked impetus, adding 12 turgid runs in the first 10 overs of the day. South Africa's bowlers were impressive, no doubt - Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock's lines to Farhat were particularly well controlled - but never did the batsmen take the initiative and Younis was first to go, trapped lbw.

Farhat threatened to break free from his self-appointed prison, standing tall and crashing a four through extra cover to bring up his fifty. But South Africa's intensity was too great, their grip too tight, and Farhat became Harris's first of four victims thanks to a sharp catch by AB de Villiers at silly point. Faisal Iqbal and Kamran Akmal neither defended solidly or batted aggressively, occupying the crease without scoring, and were soon dispatched by Harris.

Such was South Africa's control of the match, even Andre Nel - whose kryptonite is the spitting sledge - kept quiet and let his bouncers do the talking, for once. Pakistan were finished - or so South Africa believed.

The scene was set for the captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, to produce one of his mountainous hundreds, protecting the tail and dragging them with him like a polar bear protecting his young. But it wasn't to be. Flicking Pollock off his legs, the ball raced to de Villiers's left at short-midwicket who - stationed low, weight going forward - took the ball one-handed, almost behind him. Leading by just 83, it should have spelt capitulation for Pakistan, but instead it poked them out of hibernation.

Before tea, Shahid Nazir and Rana Naved - with a clear nod to that bastion of tail-end shots, the mow over midwicket - clobbered 44 in eight overs. After the interval, South Africa's control and composure went haywire; they were totally rattled, and Pakistan knew it. In the first over after tea Pollock had Rana Naved caught behind - or so he, and every South African bar Mark Boucher, thought.

In the same over Shahid Nazir, Pakistan's cheerleading frolic merchant before tea, should have been run out taking a quick single to Paul Harris at mid-on who panicked, spectacularly, and threw the ball to the wrong end. Herschelle Gibbs ought to have run out Rana the following ball, too, but his angry throw was wildly misdirected. Cue Pakistani pandemonium as Nazir crashed Makhaya Ntini for an enourmous six; Naved crashed him for two further fours and an equally zinging six over long-on; and Danish Kaneria played a wonderful little cameo of 23 from just 23 balls, including a farmer's scythe over midwicket. So much for the devilish pitch, then.

South Africa were dumbstruck but they continued to take wickets and avoided chasing a psychologically damaging total of 200. With 199 needed Graeme Smith and de Villiers smacked 20 in four overs before de Villiers threw away his wicket with a careless and all-too-familiar slap outside his off stump. And in spite of losing Smith in the last over of the day, to the persistent Mohammad Hafeez, South Africa are well placed to take a series lead.


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