Twitter Reactions: It wasn’t a day for the faint-hearted in Centurion as Pakistan outsmart South Africa in a nail-biting thriller

Twitter Reactions: It wasn’t a day for the faint-hearted in Centurion as Pakistan outsmart South Africa in a nail-biting thriller

It was Rassie van der Dussen’s valiance that led an adversely situated South Africa to crawl out of trouble as Pakistan’s pacers shook them.

Babar Azam
Babar Azam. (Photo by PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP via Getty Images)

Pakistan clinched a nail-biting last-ball thriller to earn a lead of 1-0 in the three-match series against South Africa. A match that they were in complete control of was taken as deep as the last ball courtesy of some exceptional bowling and creating pressure, however, it did not prove sufficient to evade a loss for South Africa.

It was Rassie van der Dussen’s valiance that led an adversely situated South Africa to crawl out of trouble as Pakistan’s pacers shook them immediately after Babar Azam, aiming to make use of the moisture in the Centurion track, won the toss and inserted them.

Amid the aim of playing with a smart but aggressive template, South Africa found themselves in the middle of nowhere, with a searing Shaheen Afridi making early inroads. Having got their eyes in, the new opening pair of Quinton de Kock and Aiden Markram provided a decent start, adding 34 for the opening wicket.

Searing Shaheen 

However, any plans of building on that were thrown into tatters by Afridi’s twin strikes in the 6th over as de Kock mistimed him straight to Babar Azam at mid-off only two balls before his partner, Markram, guided a length ball to mid-on. Even as the on-field umpires went upstairs to ensure whether the catch – taken by Faheem Ashraf diving forward – was clean or not, the paucity of conclusive evidence for the third-umpire meant that the soft signal withstood.

Mohammad Hasnain joined the party in the next over as the skipper Temba Bavuma started his captaincy career with a 4-ball 1, deflecting a short one straight into the hands of third-man. Reduced to 43/3 in eight overs after losing three top-order batsmen in 10 balls, the home team went into a shell and the scoring froze.

Afridi would have had another had Asif Ali not grassed van der Dussen at second slip when he was yet to get off the mark. Meanwhile, having survived an lbw shout after reviewing it successfully, Heinrich Klassen, who labored his way to a solitary run off 21 balls, did not trouble the visitors much as he nicked Ahsraf behind while trying to cut him.

Wickets fall; Dussen, Miller tall

Klassen left South Africa 55/4, where another wicket might have meant nearly conceding the match already. That it did not happen was thanks to van der Dussen, who anchored alongside a free-flowing David Miller to add 116 for the fifth wicket. Azam shuffled all the bowlers as he went to Afridi, Hasnain, and even to the spin of debutant Danish Aziz, although neither of the batsmen was willing to drop the guard.

The duo did not give even one chance keeping aside a horrible mix-up while running in the 32nd over that Pakistan failed to materialize. A blend rotation of strike with odd boundaries, in the meanwhile, unsettled the Pakistani bowlers as South Africa clawed their way back in to reach 170 in 36th, a score that was one nowhere in sight. It took a brilliant, low, diving catch from Mohammad Rizwan off Haris Rauf to end the fruitful partnership as Miller nicked one immediately after reaching his half-century.

His end did not bother Dussen much, who got good support from Andile Phehlukwayo from the other side as the all-rounder dug in, and ensured to give maximum strike to Dussen apart from stroking a few himself before Shadab Khan snaffled him at covers off Rauf. Two deliveries later, Dussen took a single to reach his maiden ODI century and ascertained to take South Africa past 270 through some late acceleration.

Babar, Imam’s class act 

Out for the chase, Pakistan lost Fakhar Zaman to Kagiso Rabada as he inside-edged one straight onto his stumps. What transpired, however, was a partnership of some class as Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq dug themselves deep en route to their massive 177-run stand for the second wicket. Ngidi was able to induce an edge off Azam early in his innings, although Markram at third-man was unable to grab a rather difficult chance.

After a sedate start, Azam got into his elements as he flicked one off his pads from Rabada before punching Anrich Nortje for a couple of fours in the last over of the powerplay. As he kept middling the ball with his class timing, Imam-ul-Haq stood quiet at the other end, content with singles. Imam broke the shackles depositing Tabraiz Shamsi for a six, over deep mid-wicket in the 16th.

Having struck back-to-back fours off Nortje, Azam reached his half-century through a glorious drive against Shamsi in the 21st over, whereas Imam brought his up in the 25th over through consecutive fours off Ngidi. The duo slammed a slew of boundaries, upping the scoring significantly in the four-over period (27-31) that fetched them 39 runs, and Azam notched up his century from 103 balls as he worked Nortje on the on-side for four.

Wobbly Pakistan maintain nerves

It rarely felt that Pakistan was not in control of things but Nortje has different plans. Pakistan lost 4 wickets in a space of 6 overs to go from 185/1 to 203/5, a mini-collapse that started with Nortje removing Azam immediately the next ball he completed his century through a faint edge to de Kock.

He then made Imam-ul-Haq miscue a pull to mid-on, induced an edge for the wicketkeeper off a short ball to end Danish Aziz’s outing, and got Asif Ali caught at midwicket to suddenly raise once-dead hopes of South Africa. However, Mohammad Rizwan and Shadab Khan joined forces to halt the slide as they added 53 from 58 under immense pressure.

Pakistan needed 18 off 17 when Rizwan holed out to midwicket off Rabada. However, that was not the end of the drama as van der Dussen dropped Shadab Khan in the penultimate from Ngidi, who knocked him over on the next delivery, only for it to be adjudged a no-ball due to height. A boundary off the free-hit and three runs after de Kock failed to collect the ball properly left them to get three from the final over.

As if this much drama was not enough, Shadab Khan skied a slower one to pick van der Dussen off Phelukwayo, which was followed by a hat-trick of dots to bring the equation down three needed off two. That Faheem Ashraf managed, by picking a double off the penultimate delivery and driving the final one to get Pakistan across.

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