A quiet return was never to be expected but maybe such a successful one wasn't either. Shoaib Akhtar, who returned to his first Test in almost a year by taking 4 for 36 as South Africa were bowled out for 124 on the first day of the second Test at Port Elizabeth, was evidently surprised by it himself. "I thought it would take me the whole Test match to get back into it," he said after a day on which South Africa fought back to restrict Pakistan to only a lead of 11 runs, with four wickets left.
The surprise emanated in part from just playing a Test again, something Shoaib thought might never happen again, after a year racked by initially by injuries and subsequently by the doping crisis, which saw him banned and then reinstated to international cricket. Controversies, he said, had been the story of his life.
"If you asked me the same question [about his career] a few months ago I wouldn't have had an answer that I would play cricket ever again," he said. Shoaib was banned from playing cricket twice before, for chucking before testing positive in October for the banned anabolic steroid, Nandrolone, stalled his career once again.
Shoaib was, however, quick to acknowledge the contributions of all the other bowlers in the attack; Danish Kaneria, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Sami shared the rest of the wickets as Pakistan, in bowling out South Africa for their lowest-ever total against them, put on a vastly improved performance from the first Test. "We worked in partnerships and every bowling spell brought a wicket," he said.
But they couldn't drive home their advantage, as the South African bowlers and Makhaya Ntini in particular, with 4 for 18 in his 10 overs, ripped through their top order leaving them tottering on 135 for six, with only Inzamam-ul-Haq and the tail to bat.
Mickey Arthur, the South Africa coach, was optimistic at the end of day. "We're right back in it," he said. Arthur added that his team's batting had been poor on "a fantastic wicket, which ranks with Durban [against India] as the best we have played on this season."
Arthur hoped that South Africa would benefit from Inzamam coming in to bat on the second day with only the tail in support. Inzamam bruised his shoulder during fielding practice before the match and went off the field at the first drinks break which meant that he could not bat until an equivalent amount of time had passed. He was said to have been in considerable pain and is expected to ba after taking pain-killing injections.