South Africa took the first giant step towards shedding the eternal chokers tag as they pushed Pakistan towards the World Cup exit door winning a humdinger of a contest by solitary wicket in Chennai on Friday. This is South Africa’s first World Cup win against Pakistan since the 1999 edition while Babar Azam’s men’s fourth loss on trot is country’s first in global event. Pakistan are on four points from six games and even if they win all three games, there is less than five percent chance of them qualifying for the last four stage.
What looked like a straightforward chase of 271, suddenly became the closest game of the tournament as Proteas slumped from 235 for 5 to 260 for 9, thanks to an inspired phase of high quality pace bowling by Shaheen Shah Afridi (3/45) and Haris Rauf (2/62).
However Keshav Maharaj (7 not out) and Tabraiz Shamsi (4 not out) added the 11 most precious runs of their career to notch up a special win in 47.2 overs and also take the team to top of points table with 10 points.
“This is not just four most important runs that I have scored but perhaps the only four runs I have scored in the entire year,” a beaming Shamsi said after accepting the ‘Player of the Match’ award for his match figures of 4 for 60.
Maharaj survived a close DRS appeal off Rauf’s delivery, courtesy Umpires’ Call and once the bowler was on his haunches along with keeper Mohammed Rizwan, the writing was on the wall.
Left-arm spin of Mohammed Nawaz is an apology for slow bowling and Maharaj let a war cry after slapping it behind the vacant backward square leg for a boundary.
While Babar would feel short-changed as one of the deliveries bowled by one of his pacers brushed Keshav Maharaj’s pads but was called wide but he can’t deny that his team put up at least 40 runs less of what could have been a par score on good batting track.
His captaincy was also unimaginative as Aiden Markram (91 off 93 balls) showed why he is rated so highly with a quality knock . Markram was both accumulator and aggressor in equal measure as he used the pace of Rauf and Mohammed Wasim Junior to score a lot of runs.
The inside out six of Iftikhar’s off-break was a treat while Quinton de Kock giving a rollicking start also helped. He hit Shaheen for four boundaries and it did set the tempo.
Save Markram, the other small but useful contributions came from David Miller, who hit 29 off 33 balls and Marco Jansen 920 off 14 balls), who always found a way top hit sixes to close in on the target.
Usama Mir (2/45), the concussion substitute did get a couple of wickets but bowled a lot of loose balls for Pakistan’s comfort.
Earlier, skipper Babar and Saud Shakeel struck fifties but Pakistan batters frittered away good starts to be bowled out for a below-par 270 after the losers decided to make first use of the strip.
While Babar managed 50 off 65 deliveries, Shakeel made a run-a-ball 52 but Pakistan couldn’t build enough partnerships and also faltered in the back end to be dismissed in 46.4 overs after opting to bat. The last five wickets fell for 45 runs.
Left-arm spinner Tabraiz Shamsi, who was playing only his second game, shone with figures of four for 60, while Marco Jansen (3/43) was superb with the new ball, and Gerald Coetzee (2/42) also snapped two.
It all began with a maiden over from Jansen, who accounted for both the openers — Abdullah Shafique (9) and Imam-ul-Haq (12) as Pakistan slipped to 38 for 2 in the seventh over.
It could have been third down for the Pakistan in the same over had Jansen hold on to a caught and bowled chance for Mohammad Rizwan.
Rizwan started on an aggressive note, hitting a six off spinner Keshav Maharaj and constructing a 48-run partnership with Babar (50).
However, the lease of life that Jansen offered him did not last long, as in the 16th over, speedster Coetzee sent him back to the pavilion after being caught behind, with the score reading 86 for three.
While Coetzee continued to suppress Pakistan’s scoring rate, they brought up their 100 by the 20th over.
The pair of Babar and Iftikhar Ahmed (21) added 43 for the fourth wicket before the latter became the fourth man to be dismissed, holing out to Heinrich Klaasen off Shamsi in the 26th.
In the meantime, Babar brought up his 31st ODI half-century but right after the landmark, he fell prey to Shamsi in the 28th after an attempted sweep saw the ball take the faintest of nicks before being gloved by Quinton de Kock.
Although initially given not out by the umpire, the Proteas opted for the review at the last moment and the decision went in their favour as Pakistan slumped to 141 for five.
Shakeel and Shadab (43) then joined hands and forged a much-needed partnership of 84 runs, bringing their innings back on track. Soon the team 200 was up by the 37th over but Pakistan couldn’t make use of the platform.
In the end archaic batting letting them down.
(Except for the headline, )