Second Test Match

South Africa v Pakistan 2007-08

At Port Elizabeth, January 19, 20, 21, 22, 2007. Pakistan won by five wickets. Toss: South Africa.

A drumroll might have accompanied Shoaib Akhtar on to the field on his return to international cricket. The Rawalpindi Express had been derailed by a drugs scandal in October, the latest in his long and winding lurch from one controversy to another. But there he stood, at the top of his run on a gorgeous day at St George's Park, purring like a freshly serviced jet engine.

Akhtar deals in a brand of celebrity that seems to attract supporters and detractors in equal measure. In this Test, he satisfied both constituencies. His bowling in South Africa's first innings was ragged in terms of line and length. But his pace was consistently lethal. The batsmen could only flounder as Akhtar took four wickets. South Africa were done and dusted just over an hour after lunch on the first day for an indefensible and undefendable 124.

His supporters, then, had reason to be cheerful. But so did the detractors, once television cameras captured Akhtar in what was plainly a less than amicable discussion with coach Bob Woolmer next morning. That marked the beginning of the end of Akhtar's tour. He and Woolmer were at odds about the hamstring problem that he brought into the match, and soon a knee injury was added to the list. The next kink in the story was that Akhtar returned home with the man he arrived as cover for, Umar Gul (who had hurt an ankle), after this match. He also landed himself a fine from the Pakistan board for his altercation with Woolmer.

Pakistan reached stumps on the first day on 135 for six. The casual observer might assume the pitch was difficult, the bowling decent and the batting indecent; two out of three ain't bad, but no blame should be laid on the pitch for the 16 wickets that fell in 81 overs. The surface was by some distance the most South African of the summer, brimful of pace and bounce, and as true as the clear blue sky above.

Inzamam-ul-Haq did not bat that day because he had spent much of it off the field, receiving treatment for a blow to his shoulder from an errant ball during the morning warm-up. Instead, he lumbered to the crease at No. 8 on the second morning. That was where he stayed, scoring a seamless 92 not out and sharing a stand of 74 - the biggest of the match to date - with last man Mohammad Asif. Though he eventually became Ntini's sixth wicket of the innings, and the 301st of his Test career, Asif's worthy contribution was 92 minutes at the crease, 29 balls faced, and seven runs scored. This partnership was perhaps the vital piece of the puzzle that Pakistan needed to solve if they were going to level the series. But a lead of 141 was far from commanding.

The baton was passed back to the attack, by then deprived of the conquering Akhtar. But Asif, himself a survivor of the drugs saga, showed that his explosive performance in Centurion was no aberration, with another five-wicket haul in which he was as accurate as he was penetrative. Danish Kaneria was not in the rasping form he slipped effortlessly into in the First Test - that pitch was a more valuable ally to him - but shouldered his share of the burden and was rewarded with four wickets. Between them Asif and Kaneria bowled 90 of the 134 overs that Pakistan needed to dismiss South Africa. "It was difficult but it was something we had to do," Asif said that evening. "There was no one else to do it."

An innings of 91 by Kallis, and a last-wicket effort of 41 by Nel and Ntini, after South Africa had squandered five for 95, pushed the lead to a respectable 190. Pakistan were eight without loss at stumps, and all boded well for them for the fourth day. But South Africa's admirable fighting qualities surged to the fore: they snapped up three wickets before lunch. When Mohammad Yousuf and Inzamam went early in the second session, Pakistan were 92 for five and the South Africans' nostrils flared.

The sharp whiff of adrenalin was in the air as Kamran Akmal, who had dropped numerous catches behind the wicket, took guard with the blatantly self-assured Younis Khan. Akmal's first few runs came by way of blazing comets through or over the slips. Younis, who had been on five when Pollock spilled an awkward return catch, cheekily applauded Akmal's edgy early success.

But luck soon went out of the equation and the runs came easily enough. Akmal scored his share diligently, while Younis collected his booty with a satisfied swagger and on the stroke of tea hit the winning runs.

Man of the Match: Inzamam-ul-Haq. Attendance: 15,646.

© John Wisden & Co.