Hashim Amla notched his 20th Test century, but three wickets for 34-year-old debutant Zulfiqar Babar allowed Pakistan to restrict South Africa to 245-8 on the opening day of the first Test in Abu Dhabi yesterday.
Amla — ranked the world’s best batsman — provided another innovative display to hit 118 not out, while most of his teammates showed some ring rustiness after 10 months without Test cricket.
Spinner Zulfiqar, who became the second-oldest debutant for Pakistan, took three wickets in the final session to turn the match back his side’s way after Amla had led a South Africa fightback at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital.
The seamers took three wickets in the opening session, but Pakistan lost the initiative between lunch and tea with a bizarre run-out of AB de Villiers their only success.
Then, as the pitch began to turn, Zulfiqar ended a 95-run partnership for the fifth wicket by dismissing JP Duminy.
The spinner also saw Asad Shafiq take a sharp catch at second slip to dismiss Faf du Plessis for one and bowled Robin Peterson for five to finish with 3-89 off 27 overs.
Amla, who struck 13 fours, offered an early chance for a run out while risking a single, but after that, he proved the backbone of the innings.
Duminy made a good return after an 11-month injury absence from Tests by compiling 57 before skying a top edge to Shafiq.
Earlier, Mohammad Irfan had openers Alviro Petersen (3) and captain Graeme Smith (15) caught before Junaid Khan dismissed Jacques Kallis for five.
De Villiers (19) was removed after lunch when he got an inside edge off Zulfiqar that trickled to Younis Khan at first slip.
Younis threw the ball to wicketkeeper Adnan Akmal to take off the bails, while De Villiers — seemingly deep in thought in an uncharacteristic lapse of concentration — was still in an exaggerated forward pose, with his back foot not behind the crease.
He was Pakistan’s only victim of the second session, but the spinners came alive after tea, with Saeed Ajmal also claiming a wicket.
The Test is the first in a two-match series in the UAE where South Africa face a stiff examination of their top-ranked status.
The matches are being played in Abu Dhabi and Dubai because of the unstable security situation in Pakistan.
Pakistan last hosted a Test on home soil in 2009.