CAPE TOWN - Armed with a four-man fast-bowling attack that has a strong claim to be the best in the world, South Africa won the second test and the series against Pakistan by making the 41 runs it needed on the morning of the fourth day on Sunday.
South Africa’s batsmen completed a nine-wicket win and a seventh straight series success at home, a comfortable victory set up once again by the Proteas’ pacemen, who very nearly made both of the opening two tests of the series three-day affairs.
The match at Newlands only went 47 minutes into the fourth day, when South Africa cruised to 43-1 in its second innings to finish the job.
Pakistan has failed to reach 200 in three of its four innings so far in the series with South Africa’s attack, boasting top-ranked test bowler Kagiso Rabada, a fit-again Dale Steyn, and newcomer Duanne Olivier, bullying the Pakistan batsmen.
South Africa cranked it up even further in Cape Town by adding Vernon Philander and making it an all-out pace attack, with spinner Keshav Maharaj not needed for the second test and left out.
“I think if you talk about our bowling and their bowling, there’s a big difference,” Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed said. “There’s a difference in pace.”
Even though Pakistan also has a promising group of fast bowlers, Sarfraz said they couldn’t match the out-and-out speed of the South Africans.
It wasn’t quite as simple with the bat as South Africa was hoping for on Sunday morning. The Proteas lost stand-in opener Theunis de Bruyn for 4 and Hashim Amla retired hurt on 2 after being hit on the right arm by a bouncer before they reached the modest target.
De Bruyn was opening in place of Aiden Markram, who was injured fielding on the third day.
Still, South Africa got there, with opener Dean Elgar 24 not out and captain Faf du Plessis — man of the match for a first-innings century — 3 not out. It gave South Africa a 2-0 lead in the three-test contest.
The final test in Johannesburg starts on Friday and there’s likely to be no letup from South Africa’s bowlers there, with Johannesburg’s Wanderers traditionally one of the country’s quickest pitches.
“We have nothing to lose. We just have to play a positive game,” Sarfraz said.
The victory at Newlands also took South Africa’s record to 10 victories in 14 tests and 10 wins out of 12 at home since coach Ottis Gibson — a man who appreciates fast bowling more than any other facet — was appointed in late 2017.
“Not too long ago we were (ranked) No. 7 in the world and we lost a few test matches and weren’t playing as well as we liked and we said home matches and home series, we need to take care of them,” South Africa captain du Plessis said.
Gibson has taken South Africa on just one overseas test tour, though, where the Proteas were whitewashed 2-0 on slow, turning surfaces in Sri Lanka.
“There lies the challenge in being better at touring,” du Plessis said.
Pakistan was bowled out for 177 in the first innings at Newlands and South Africa was in control after that, with Steyn’s seven wickets in the match the fast bowler’s best performance since a career-threatening shoulder injury in 2016.
In the first test, Steyn passed Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in tests and, at 35, is almost having a second chance at test cricket after being sidelined for the best part of two years.
“I had doubts about him because he had two years of injuries,” du Plessis said. “In the back of my mind I was thinking ‘is Dale Steyn going to come back? Will he be the Dale Steyn that we had?’ Then he comes back and proves everybody wrong.”