Long haul ahead
Pakistan’s tilt at history in terms of not only recording their first-ever Test win in Johannesburg but also pulling off their second-highest Test run chase will go into a fourth day.
With their most aggressive batsmen in Babar Azam (17*) and Asad Shafiq (48*) at the crease and time on their side, 381 is faintly within their reach.
Pakistan ended the third day on 153/3, 228 runs from their historic goal with only Sarfraz Ahmed and a longish and fragile tail to follow.
Whether they have the requisite patience and composure to get there is another story.
However, they displayed the fight that was sorely lacking in the heat of first-innings battles in all three Tests.
Then again, Pakistan tend to play their best cricket when their backs are firmly against the wall.
Imam-ul-Haq (35) and Shan Masood (37) gave the visitors a solid 67-run start after SA were bowled out for 303.
The openers were removed by the Quinton de Kock/Dale Steyn combination but the exit of Masood, who needed a referral to get him on his back, elicited a disgusted response from the lanky lefthander.
Azhar Ali’s (15) miserable series came to an inevitable end when his nemesis Duanne Olivier bounced him out yet again.
Olivier has dismissed Ali four out of six times this series, denying Pakistan’s best and most experienced batsman crucial crease time on a surface whose demons have gradually dissipated.
Babar and Shafiq blazed their way to an unbeaten 49run fourth-wicket partnership that pretty much stands between a landmark chase and a customary collapse.
How they wish they could have a batsman of Hashim Amla’s ilk who can not only stave off a collapse, but can also serenely get his team into a good position while another batting partner charms the crowd with sumptuous strokeplay.
While on their way to setting Pakistan the steep fourthinnings target, the far quieter but highly appreciative Sunday crowd was treated to a delectable fourth Test century by De Kock.
It was a proper De Kock special, laced with boundaries but also the intelligent kind of placement and running between the wickets that is not always associated with big hitters. It came off only 121 balls and contained 15 fours.
When he holed out to Hasan Ali at deep fine leg off Shadab Khan (3/41), the standing ovation was a warm one that recognised an unfussed lower-order ton of the highest class.
With the Proteas also needing their top-order big guns to come good ahead of the looming five-match ODI series against the same opponents, the century was a timely one.
After all, De Kock also scored a very good 50 in the second Test in Cape Town.
Another heart-warming knock for the selectors was Amla’s 71.
He steered South Africa out of some very choppy waters of 45/4 in the second innings.
He not only guided them from trouble, but dragged them through parity and into a position of meaningful dominance.
It also provided the needed reassurance that he is in some sort of dominance that stands the national team in good stead for the ODI leg that leads to the World Cup.
Kagiso Rabada (21) showed his increasing maturity at the crease, with his innings spanning 62 balls, but this was not the case for Vernon Philander (14) and Olivier (1).
However, Pakistan’s chase remains a steep one despite the pitch’s easy nature and even though they started well they will need to summon their shallow batting reserves if they are to salvage something from this game.