KARACHI: The expressions of rival captains — Babar Azam of Pakistan and his South African counterpart Quinton de Kock — during their virtual media conferences on Friday depicted the mood in the respective camps.
Babar, who is rated shy when it comes to speaking, singled out the quality of Pakistan spinners as the reason of South Africa’s first defeat here since 2003. In his first Test as team leader, Babar showered Nauman Ali and Yasir Shah — as the duo equally shared 14 wickets between them — while also making a special mention of Fawad Alam, adjudged man-of-the-match for his first century in a winning Test after his previous tons — 168 on debut against Sri Lanka at Galle in 2009 and 102 versus New Zealand during the Mount Maunganui Test last December — were scored during defeats.
“We were pleasantly surprised by Nauman’s calmness on the field. He is a very intelligent cricketer from what we had seen of him during the domestic matches and the feedback about Nauman is excellent.
“Overall we played brilliantly as one unit. To come back from 27-4 on day one as we did and then score one of the most satisfying Test victories in my career was very special,” Babar told reporters after leading his side to a rousing seven-wicket victory.
“In fact, I would say that everyone in the team contributed in this tremendous win. And the way Nauman and Yasir delivered, it was amazing to see them out-bowl the South African spinners.
Pakistan batsmen tackled spinners better: De Kock
“What really impressed us most was the way he went about his task. The wicket was turning a bit but not that much as everybody was predicting it would. Apart from irregular bounce at times [when bowling from the Pavilion End], I reckon the wicket played well,” Babar added.
“And although we won, I still say South Africa are a fine team with some quality players in their ranks. They found the slow wicket in Karachi somehow difficult to adjust, just we do when Pakistan play in South Africa.”
The 26-year-old Babar, who failed given his high-standard rating among the batsmen in world cricket with scores of 0 and 30, observed Pakistan’s recovery on the second day from 33-4 to 308-8 was crucial.
“I always believe that partnerships are as important as individual scores. Fawad was superb and his vast experience of first-class cricket was priceless when it was need of the hour. To have someone like Fawad in the side is a blessing in disguise and we owe him a hugely because without his great knock, Pakistan would have struggled for the lead,” the Pakistan skipper commented.
“And then Azhar Ali and Faheem Ashraf provided the support to Fawad. Azhar and Fawad led the recovery from 33-4, and showed the experience that was required [during the fourth-wicket partnership of 94]. Fawad was the driving force of the innings and Faheem showed he has the capacity of chipping in [stand of 102 with Fawad]. He can develop into a fine cricketer if he remains focussed,” the right-handed Babar added.
De Kock, meanwhile, lamented the lack of runs upfront as the difference between winning and losing.
“The Pakistan batters were better than ours because I don’t think the bowling cost us as much as the lack of runs. I thought the way Pakistan batsmen played spin and the way we batted against spin was the difference. The Pakistanis soaked up the pressure much better than us,” de Kock stressed.
“So basically, it was more about batting and not about bowling [contradicting the fact his frontline spin weapon Keshav Maharaj took four wickets in the Test and George Linde none at all].
“But having said that we were certainly not up to the mark as a team. Our batsmen failed to be honest and the first innings total  after winning the toss was never sufficient considering the pitch was good for batting. It was always hard to come back if you’ve not put decent runs on the board upfront,” de Kock continued.
“And although we had them 33-4 on the first day in what was a fine start for the bowlers, we badly let ourselves down in that first innings. I’m sure South Africa will be ready for the challenge in Rawalpindi but we need to improve as a team because defeating Pakistan in their own conditions is tough,” the South African captain remarked.
Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2021