On 2nd April, 2021, under the blinding Pretorian floodlights, Pakistan somehow veered themselves into a predicament, where they needed 14 runs off the final two overs. Prior to that, the Asian outfit had called the shots in the second innings and had fashioned a position of dominance, courtesy a marvelous Babar Azam ton.
Post the Pakistan captain’s dismissal, though, the visitors tried their utmost to squander their advantage and offer the hosts an avenue back into the game. That the latter managed to bring the equation down to 3 runs required off 2 balls perhaps captures the story completely.
Thereafter, Pakistan possessed the requisite calmness to get over the line and surge ahead in a series that promises to be just as topsy-turvy. Yet, the manner of the victory also shed light on another trait – one that has become eerily synonymous to both. And, if one were to be a little blunter, it only highlighted why Pakistan and South Africa are no longer looked upon as the gold standard in ODI cricket.
To put things into perspective, Pakistan won the toss and elected to bowl first on a surface that was a tad tacky. As expected, the ball decked around, meaning that Mohammad Hasnain and Shaheen Shah Afridi kept the batsmen on their toes, at least in the first two overs.
All of a sudden, though, Quinton de Kock clicked into gear and attacked Pakistan’s premier pacer (Shaheen Shah Afridi). The wicket-keeper bagged a couple of boundaries in the 3rd over before Markram joined in on the fun, cracking a sumptuous back foot punch past extra cover off Hasnain.
Rather amazingly, in the space of a few deliveries, it seemed as if South Africa had turned the tables on Pakistan and that they would optimize the Power Play fully. Just as the head of steam was being generated, the hosts extinguished it with a string of rash strokes.
While Quinton de Kock picked the wrong length to play the lofted cover-drive, Markram found himself too committed to the front foot – something that dwindled his ability to tackle the ball that stopped. Temba Bavuma, on the other hand, picked out the fielder at third man to perfection when attempting the uppercut.
The rest of the Power Play came about without any mishaps for the hosts, with Pakistan tightening the screws expertly. In fact, they were so tidy with their lines and lengths that Heinrich Klaasen took 19 balls to get off the mark. For the uninitiated, it was the 2nd slowest (in terms of balls) any South African has ever managed in ODI cricket.
Hence, when Pakistan reduced South Africa to 55/4 inside fifteen overs, they were firmly in the ascendancy. However, this also meant that the baton of lackadaisicalness was then passed over from the hosts to the visitors. Not the most ideal changing of the guard, one must say.
Over the course of the next few hours, Pakistan suddenly fell off a cliff, meaning that they allowed the Proteas to mount a comeback. More importantly, though, the lack of intensity after the early jolts enabled the hosts to establish a foothold in the game.
Unsurprisingly, South Africa, courtesy some excellent rear-guard action, powered their way to 274/6, despite looking likely to post a total much lower than that for a major chunk.
Thus, if one were to only look at the latter part of South Africa’s innings, one might be tempted to label their rescue act as extraordinary. On further introspection, though, one might conclude that they dug their own grave before having to rely on something stupendous.
As for Pakistan, their bowling between overs 15-40 lacked any sort of conviction or rhythm. Even when David Miller walked out to the centre, Pakistan offered him loose deliveries to break the shackles.
To put things into context, each of David Miller’s opening five boundaries were scored off the back foot. While that particular barrage included four cut strokes, one boundary was accumulated via a fine leg glance.
Unsurprisingly, Pakistan’s patchy bowling effort continued through the rest of the innings, meaning that South Africa hauled themselves to 274/6, which on a strip that wasn’t too conducive for stroke-making seemed a challenging target.
Pakistan began their run-chase brilliantly
When Pakistan began batting, though, the pitch seemed anything but challenging. Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq, at least for a major chunk of their essays, were…