• South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 2nd day

Ajmal masterclass stuns South Africa

The Report by Siddarth Ravindran
February 15, 2013
South Africa 139 for 5 (Ajmal 5-41) trail Pakistan 338 (Shafiq 111, Younis 111, Philander 5-59) by 199 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

It was not all beguiling spin bowling from Saeed Ajmal and he pulled his weight in the field too © Getty Images

The Cape Town pitch was expected to make Saeed Ajmal a central figure towards the end of the Test but he made an impact as early as the second day, first with the bat in a combative 64-run ninth-wicket stand and then, far more damagingly, with a mesmerising display of spin bowling that left South Africa stuttering for the first time in their home summer.

Though this was not a tailor-made turner for Ajmal, and it had been widely predicted to be a great day for batting, he got the ball to rear up and to fizz off the track in an unbroken 25-over spell that could well end up as his greatest performance. The mighty South African batting was nonplussed, and an hour before stumps there was even the outside chance of them being forced to follow-on. And this wasn't even one of those old South African teams who were frazzled by the sight of the turning ball.

The typical bowler may glare at the batsman after sending down an unplayable delivery or hurl a verbal volley at him, but Saeed Ajmal does neither. He flashes a wide grin at the batsman, that suggests amazement that the he has survived and that more trickery will follow.

Though Pakistan had three specialist quick bowlers, they turned to Ajmal as early as the 12th over, and he bowled unchanged from midway through the second session to stumps. Tanvir Ahmed, given the new ball, was a disappointment, bowling only around 120kph and not troubling the batsmen much, though he put in an improved second spell. The other two fast bowlers, Umar Gul and debutant Mohammad Irfan, were both regularly around 140kph, but the closest either of them came to a wicket was when Gul had Graeme Smith jabbing a simple catch to second slip for a duck, only for the usually reliable Younis Khan to grass the ball.

Smart stats

  • Pakistan's total of 338 is their highest in Tests in South Africa. Their previous best was 329 in Johannesburg exactly 15 years ago.
  • Vernon Philander's 5 for 59 is his ninth five-for in 15 Tests. In Cape Town he has taken 26 wickets in four Tests at an average of 12.30.
  • Saeed Ajmal's 5 for 41 is his first five-for against South Africa. In two previous Tests against them he had taken four wickets at 84.75.
  • The last time a spinner took a five-for in the opposition's first innings in a Cape Town Test was way back in 1970, when Ashley Mallett took 5 for 126.
  • For the first time in Test cricket, two batsmen scored 111 in a Test innings. The highest individual score by two batsmen in an innings is 234, by Don Bradman and Sid Barnes against England in 1946.

It was left to Ajmal to do the damage, and he duly delivered a masterclass of spin bowling. Just when the openers were looking settled, Ajmal struck in his second over, getting Smith lbw on the sweep. The umpire turned down the appeal but Ajmal emphatically and repeatedly asked his team-mates to go for the review, which resulted in Smith being sent on his way. He had more success soon after as Alviro Petersen nicked to short leg where Azhar Ali pulled off a smart, low catch.

His battle with Hashim Amla, the world's top-ranked batsman, was engrossing, with Amla repeatedly using the reverse-sweep and also frequently shuffling across the stumps to try and counter Ajmal. Though Amla seemed to have got on top of Ajmal when he picked off a couple of leg-side boundaries in successive overs, Ajmal emerged the winner as he rapped Amla on the back foot to get him lbw, again after using the DRS.

The DRS has already been one of the most controversial innovations in cricket, diving opinion on many levels, and there was one more talking point when South Africa's most experienced batsman, Jacques Kallis, was adjudged lbw on referral. He was originally given out caught at short leg, and he immediately referred the decision, and the replays suggested there was no edge. The umpires then checked whether it was an lbw, and the predicted path said that it was just shaving legstump, and that it would stick with the "umpire's call", though the umpire hadn't ruled on whether the ball would hit the stumps. The rules state that when the mode of dismissal changes, the batsman should originally be considered to be not out, which means Kallis should have remained in the middle, but he was given out lbw after much confusion.

That Kallis wicket had South Africa in deep trouble. Soon after, Ajmal produced what was perhaps the ball of the day, as he got one to zip from round the wicket past a befuddled Faf du Plessis, who could only edge it to the slips, where Younis safely pouched it to consign South Africa to 109 for 5.

Several of South Africa's batsmen didn't help themselves by taking a guard on or outside off stump, and virtually cut off the off-side as a scoring area against Ajmal, adding to the pressure caused by the relentless probing by the spinner.

AB de Villiers and Dean Elgar had some scares but survived the final hour to take South Africa past the follow-on mark to complete one of those rare days when the home side have been outplayed.

It was all so different in the morning when Vernon Philander's love affair with Newlands continued as he bagged another five-for - his ninth in 15 Tests. A quick close to the Pakistan innings seemed imminent when he took three wickets in his first three overs on the second day before Tanvir and Ajmal lifted Pakistan to their highest total in South Africa with a 64-run partnership.

With the ball swerving around, regularly beating the bat and most of the runs being scored through streaky edges past the slips or the leg stump, South Africa were looking forward to an early end to the innings. There was little sign that Tanvir and Ajmal would prove so hard to dislodge. With the pitch easing up, though, they began to look increasingly solid. Ahmed punched Morne Morkel past long-on for four, and Ajmal raised his front foot as he smacked Dale Steyn over midwicket for a boundary, a shot he'll treasure as much as any of his wickets today.

It wasn't till just before lunch that the pair were separated, after which it was all about Ajmal and his bewitching brand of spin bowling.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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