2nd Test, Dubai

Pakistan v South Africa, 2013-14

Imran Tahir bowled Younis Khan out for 36, Pakistan v South Africa, 2nd Test, Dubai, 3rd day, October 25, 2013
Cricket's ultimate globaliser? Imran Tahir runs through his native Pakistan to maintain South Africa's formidable sequence in overseas Test series. © AFP
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At Dubai, October 23-26, 2013. South Africa won by an innings and 92 runs. Toss: Pakistan.
South Africa won this Test comprehensively but - this is not often said - Pakistan could, if they so wished, look down on their opponents from a high-ish moral pedestal. For all the past controversies in which Pakistan had been the perpetrators, this might even have counted as a small victory. But their response to the opposition being caught redhanded in the cookie jar was thankfully free of righteous indignation.

Just after tea on the third afternoon, Pakistan were 62 for three, still 356 runs from making South Africa bat again. Hopes of a series victory over the world's No. 1 side had gone, and only pride remained at stake. Then, at the start of the 31st over, the umpires called Smith over for a chat. Not long after, reserve umpire Shozab Raza came out with a box of balls; a replacement was picked, and Ian Gould signalled five penalty runs. It was the first time since the Oval Test in August 2006, when Darrell Hair penalised Pakistan and triggered an almighty spat, that an international team had been fingered for ball tampering. It was also the first incident under new ICC rules that enhanced the umpires' power to act.

However, this was not an on-field investigation, but a sting operation, carried out by a broadcaster. Prompted by an eagle-eyed commentator to keep an eye on South Africa, Ten Sports captured du Plessis vigorously rubbing the ball against the zip of his right trouser pocket. The images were first shown to third umpire Paul Reiffel, who immediately alerted his on-field partners, before the world tuned in. It was about as conclusive as evidence of tampering might get, but match referee David Boon fined du Plessis only 50% of his match fee, with no further sanction. He seemed to buy into the South African defence that, while the ball may have been tampered with - and it was reversing - the tampering was not deliberate, or as part of a prolonged process.

A second player, Philander, was caught by the cameras apparently scratching the ball with his finger, though Boon chose to ignore this image. The irony that it happened against Pakistan was not lost on anyone, nor was the justifiable Pakistani fury at du Plessis getting away so lightly: Shahid Afridi had been banned for two games for the ball-biting incident of January 2010. It later emerged that the ICC had previously given international sides until 2015 to phase out all kit with zips on.

The incident sparked a brief and predictable storm, and diverted attention away from a dominant performance by South Africa that confirmed their status as the best side in the world. At a time when assured home performances are offset by limp away results, this 1-1 scoreline maintained South Africa's remarkable record of not having lost a Test series abroad since 2006, in Sri Lanka. Smith was the foundation of it all. His fourth double hundred as captain, in only his third Test innings since returning from a lengthy lay-off including ankle surgery, was ground out from that unmatched granite which had seen him through more than a decade in charge of a deeply complex country. A blow to the helmet by Mohammad Irfan was later shown to have caused him concussion, yet Smith soldiered on to make another 96 runs.

It certainly helped that Imran Tahir bowled Pakistan out for just 99 on the first day, after Misbah-ul-Haq had chosen to bat. The last time Pakistan had been bowled out for 99 was in their previous Test in Dubai, against England in 2011-12. They went on to win that game, but this time they couldn't recover, and lost a Test in the UAE for the first time in ten matches since going into exile. The broader story of Tahir's maiden Test five-for was more compelling than his actual bowling. In his previous Test, at Adelaide a year earlier, he had been mauled to the tune of 37-1-260-0. Yet here he ran through the country he left behind, unfurling exuberant celebrations for every wicket (and much public love for his South African wife, Sumayya, watching from the stands). In truth, it was an ordinary spell. Pakistan were abysmal and clueless, true to their history of enhancing the reputations of out-of-form bowlers.

South Africa were missing their only centurion from Abu Dhabi, Hashim Amla, who had flown home for the birth of his first child. But Smith and de Villiers took advantage of their side's enviable position in a national-record fifth-wicket stand of 338. That too was built on Pakistani largesse: they used up both reviews inside the first five overs, then Adnan Akmal spilled de Villiers first ball off Irfan, which would have left South Africa 134 for five. From there, who knows where the game might have gone. Most likely, South Africa would have found a way through.

Pakistan ended up trailing by 418 on first innings - their third-highest deficit in Tests, after two matches against West Indies in 1957-58. But, after an initial wobble that included Khurram Manzoor's pair, they put up stiffer resistance second time round. Asad Shafiq enhanced his growing reputation with a fourth Test hundred, adding 197 with Misbah. But, on the 62nd anniversary of Pakistan's maiden Test victory, this was a reassertion of many of their traditional frailties.
Man of the Match: G. C. Smith. Man of the Series: A. B. de Villiers.
Close of play: first day, South Africa 128-3 (Smith 67, Steyn 3); second day, South Africa 460-4 (Smith 227, de Villiers 157); third day, Pakistan 132-4 (Misbah-ul-Haq 42, Asad Shafiq 28).

© John Wisden & Co.