Pakistan 181 (Babar 71, Olivier 6-37, Rabada 3-59) v South Africa
Centurion and the South African cricket fraternity celebrated Dale Steyn’s ascent to the top of the country’s Test bowling records, but it was seamer Duanne Olivier and batsman Babar Azam who lit up the first sessions of the Boxing Day Test against Pakistan. Olivier struck twice before lunch and four times afterwards to collect a career-best 6 for 37, while Babar fought back with a fluent 71 in his first Test innings on South African soil.
After Steyn had Fakhar Zaman caught in the slips to take his 422nd Test scalp, Olivier took centre stage and Pakistan were in danger of folding completely when they slipped to 96 for 7. But Babar fought back with the tail, bettering Steyn in an engaging battle and adding 67 for the ninth wicket with Hasan Ali to save Pakistan from more serious strife.
Kagiso Rabada and Steyn made the early incisions in the first hour before Olivier came on as the change bowler after drinks and soon struck in consecutive overs to further dent Pakistan. His first dismissal was fortuitous, the ball ricocheting off Shan Masood’s thigh pad and then glove and onto the stumps to dislodge a bail and snap a 37-run third wicket stand. In his next over, Olivier landed one on the seam and the ball nipped in to hit Asad Shafiq on the front pad, and on the walk. Given out, Shafiq reviewed the decision but replays showed no edge and the decision stayed with the umpire’s call.
Azhar Ali resisted South Africa’s seam attack before lunch, collecting fluent boundaries off all three, but Olivier was quickly back into his groove after the interval. He dug one in at Azhar to force a skewed edge that Theunis de Bruyn snaffled brilliantly, diving to his right from third slip. Olivier also made liberal use of the short ball as Pakistan’s lower order resistance quickly waned.
Sarfraz Ahmed could not last the first over he faced, poking tentatively at a back-of-a-length delivery from Olivier to send an inside edge onto his own stumps, and Mohammad Amir was given a thorough working-over before Olivier slipped a full one through his defences. Olivier’s speeds matched those of his illustrious team-mates throughout: he operated consistently in the 140s and bowled as fast as 146kph as he vexed the tail, Amir being struck a stinging blow that immediately brought up a purple bruise on the little finger of his right hand before he had his stumps disturbed.
Pakistan were seven down without a hundred yet on the board when Amir fell. But vitally, Babar was still at the crease and he rose to the situation to shepherd what remained of the tail. There was a touch of uncertainty at the start of his knock, but he played the short ball better than anyone else did, getting away with one top edge that evaded the field but also pulling with authority.
Babar also took on Steyn in thrilling fashion in the afternoon, going on the counter-offensive in his third spell. Babar’s riposte to a probing edge to the third man fence when Steyn returned in the 39th over was a trio of silken touches through the off-side field in the same over, twice off the front foot and once via a deft cut. A fifth boundary in the space of seven deliveries took him to fifty, but it seemed Steyn had won the battle when the very next ball shot through to Quinton de Kock with an audible noise at it passed the batsman. The umpire wasn’t convinced, and after Steyn urged his captain into a review, replays showed the ball had only flicked the pocket.
Invigorated by the battle, Babar went to fifty with a masterful straight drive and then belied the occasion and the reputation of his opponent by taking Steyn apart with four more boundaries off his 13th over. Steyn’s eyes were glowing a particularly angry shade of blue when Babar eased his tenth boundary off the quick with a fully controlled guide to the third man boundary, and though there were eight wickets down Faf du Plessis could no longer afford more than one slip in place.
With Steyn hit out of the attack, it was Rabada who finally got the better of Babar, a rare poor shot resulting in an edge to du Plessis at first slip. Hasan Ali swung gamely for his 21 not out, but Shaheen Afridi feathered an edge to give Olivier his sixth wicket and bring the innings to an end.
While Babar got hold of him in his third spell, the morning had undoubtedly belonged to Steyn as his record-breaking efforts were warmly received.
As Shaun Pollock watched on from the commentary box, and a good Boxing Day crowd too looked on expectantly, Zaman lunged at a scrambled delivery outside off with hard hands, a thick edge landing in Dean Elgar’s lap in the slips to give Steyn the South African Test bowling record.
Steyn took his 400th wicket three and a half years ago, and when dismissal no. 422 finally came his emotion was clearly evident. There were no crazy eyes, no chainsaw celebration. Steyn just ran to his team-mates and was enveloped in an emotional embrace. Rabada was the one to lift Steyn onto his shoulders as Tina Turner’s ‘Simply The Best’ was belted out over the ground’s P.A., and Pollock and Steyn exchanged thumbs-ups at a distance. As he’d promised, Steyn didn’t waste too much time settling and getting back to his mark to focus on taking the next wicket. He didn’t get another, but Olivier’s efforts were enough to skittle Pakistan for under 200.