South Africa rue missed milestones on day of twists and turns

Aiden Markram defends solidly Associated Press

The first day at the Wanderers was supposed to be all about milestones. South Africa were blooding their 100th player since readmission in Zubayr Hamza, while at the other end of the spectrum Hashim Amla (Protea no. 60, who handed Hamza his cap) might have had one eye on becoming the leading Test run-scorer at this ground: at the start of play, he needed 117 runs to overtake Jacques Kallis' monumental record at this ground.

Aiden Markram will have had both eyes on the target of a fifth Test hundred when he sprinted through the first two sessions in a flurry of chanceless boundaries, but he too fell short, out for his third Test score in the 90s. Dean Elgar came into this match harbouring thoughts of scoring a Test win as captain to make up for the "chaotic" build-up and eventual defeat in his last stand-in performance against England in 2017. South Africa may yet win this game under Elgar's leadership, but such a result looked a long way off when he left the field with an audible f-bomb after being caught behind for 5 this morning.

It got a bit better after that, and things actually seemed to be going to plan for South Africa when Markram cracked 14 fours before lunch to bring up the team 100 on cruise control. In the midst of Markram's 126-run second wicket stand with Amla, with Pakistan's seamers having made a tepid start on a track that seemed to be playing flat and true, it appeared three milestones - Amla's, Markram's and Elgar's - could follow according to the script, and that Hamza could ease past one, or perhaps even two, in his debut innings.

Clearly, Pakistan hadn't read it. Markram tickled one down the leg side to add another Test 90 to his 94 against India and his 97 against Bangladesh, putting him ahead of Virat Kohli in the Test 90s stakes, which is, one supposes, a sort of milestone too.

Amla was out 76 short of surpassing Kallis' mark at this ground, flashing Shadab Khan to slip, and Hamza's rally alongside Theunis de Bruyn offered a brief, but suggestive, look at his qualities as a player. Hamza squeezed his first boundary past gully, smoked Shadab over midwicket for six to make light of any debut nerves, and showed that his hook was in good working order to the quicks. De Bruyn too exhibited a range of attacking strokes, looking especially silky through the covers, but he was out one run short of a steadying fifty, and Hamza nine short of joining this list

At the end of the day's play, Markram was left reflecting on all the missed milestones, which played some part in South Africa slipping from 229 for 3 to 262 all out against the reverse-swinging ball.

"We would have liked a batter to get to the three-figure mark," Markram admitted. "I think it's quite an important thing for us, and it's something we really strive for. There were a couple of us who had the chance today and we didn't make it count, which is a disappointing side of it, but it's something we can try to rectify in the second innings."

Of course, one of the great things about Test matches are the second chances they afford, and the scope for both failure and redemption within the course of a single twisting, turning game. Markram may get his ton in the second dig, Amla the Wanderers record, Hamza a fifty (or more) on debut, and Elgar a Test win as captain. Don't discount the chance that Vernon Philander might even get another crack at a Test hat-trick, after he had Shan Masood and Azhar Ali caught behind with successive deliveries before Imam-ul-Haq denied him late in the day.

There were a couple of milestones off the pitch too. South African journalist and press-box stalwart Ken Borland celebrated his birthday today (49 not out, and in sight of that maiden fifty), while veteran Pakistani scribe Qamar Ahmed today began coverage of his 450th and final Test match before his retirement. That's almost 20% of all the Test matches ever played, which is one heck of a landmark.