A thesis I have been reading recently reveals a statistic that says Pakistan had a 5% chance of winning a Test match in South Africa, while South Africa has a 56% chance of winning a Test in Pakistan. Statistics do tell a story though they sometimes don't tell the whole story: as luck would have it, Pakistan has now increased the percentage of winning in South Africa.
Include India's win at the Wanderers and there is definitely an effort from the subcontinent to improve their cricket on the harder, bouncier pitches of the Southern Hemisphere. One swallow doesn't make a summer but two means getting there.
Pakistan's terrific team effort was a truly special win, one that rewarded hard work and application, one that included some strong individual efforts and one that had a great team spirit about it, when it was really needed. Such results are built on key moments. Here are mine.
Flipside of the coin
The toss proved a good one to lose. The pitch looked good and both sides would have batted, but there was bounce in it. Some of the dismissals looked poor and some South African batsmen might have thought they were unlucky. Hashim Amla was caught behind down the leg side, AB de Villiers edged a wide bouncer and Graeme Smith was caught at slip off the keeper's gloves. Still, it was difficult to see how people were getting out. Admittedly, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Sami bowled really well and Danish Kaneria had a strong breeze to help his leg-spinners curve and dip as well. Getting them out for only 124 was the key.
The strike back
As expected, South Africa fought back with the ball. Younis Khan and Kamran Akmal were both fighting hard at the end of the first day, but of the 16 wickets that fell, the two most crucial appeared to be that of Younis and Kamran both falling, within minutes, in the day's last two overs. That was 1-1 for the day: I asked Jacques Kallis at the end of the day how he assessed the day and the pitch. He replied simply, "Bob, the game is going forward." Go forward it did.
The Masterpiece: as scripted by Inzamam-ul-Haq
The second day witnessed an absolutely magnificent exhibition of batting with the tail, of farming the strike. With his unbeaten 92, Inzamam-ul-Haq created probably the defining moment of the game, an innings which proved that experience is something you cannot just buy off the shelf. Inzi calculated it beautifully and only with Mohammad Asif did he really begin protecting him. In most of the 20 overs they batted, Asif had to face a maximum of two balls, Inzi not only controlling the strike but also playing some fantastic shots. The lead he got eventually proved vital.
A long way from Faisalabad
When South Africa batted again they were buoyed by the fact that Shoaib was unfit to bowl. It was a defining moment for South Africa. It was also one for Pakistan for it meant someone had to stand up and be counted in what was a three-man attack. Sure enough, they all responded and Asif was exceptional, along with Kaneria and Sami as all went beyond the call of duty.
On a day of twists, their contributions were vital: South Africa played well, with Kallis and then Mark Boucher and Shaun Pollock taking the game away from Pakistan. But just after each session break, we struck, Asif getting Herschelle Gibbs and Kallis after lunch and then Kaneria dismissing Pollock just after tea. Even then Makhaya Ntini and Andre Nel's bravado meant Pakistan were faced with an interesting total. I saw Pollock at the bar that evening and he reminded me of Faisalabad in 1997-98, when South Africa bowled out Pakistan for 92, chasing only 146. I said there are two differences: one, I was South Africa coach at Faisalabad and two, we're a long way from Faisalabad.
The final moment came when Inzi was undone by a ball that did not bounce and was adjudged leg before off Ntini while chasing the target. Immediately, visions of Faisalabad swirled in my head. But there was a nagging, positive thought at the back of my mind: Kamran Akmal, who had been criticised for a missed stumping (extremely tough) and for two dropped chances might make amends with the bat. He started fortuitously, but the secret of captaincy is always to put the fielders in the gaps. After it, he was fantastic, batting with the Pathan tiger, Younis, who fought like only a tribesman from the north of Pakistan can fight. Ironic that their 99-run partnership ended the game, as it was those two who had been involved at the end of the first day too.
It is of small consolation to the losing side, but it capped a very fine Test match, one that offered the connoisseur everything. It was tense on the last afternoon but in the end the difference was that cameo of pure genius by Inzi. Deservedly, he was presented with both "his best win" and the match award.
Do you agree with the Pakistan coach? Comment here