The rain, which briefly threatened as dark clouds swirled over Table Mountain, did not come, but the series decider was still wet at the end. In a series that was as unpredictable as it was streaking, Pakistan seemed to have both the upper hand and the momentum after a crushing victory in Johannesburg.
South Africa, however, compensated for the favors of nature with a blow to Newlands, set up by a brilliant, disciplined performance of their bowling all-rounders, and killed thanks to a gaudy 58-ball 83 from Quinton de Kock. The 240 Pakistan had written, as Andile Phehlukwayo said confidently at the innings break, was “definitely below average”, South Africa chased it with seven wickets and ten surpluses.
This was a frustrating series in her denial of the field drama. In the third ODI, which promised to be a thriller, the rain intervened to play spoilsport, and as the series drew to the Wanderers and now to Newlands, the contest coveted by viewers was nowhere to be found. At least, the crowd in Cape Town will go home with the warm glow of a clinically-acquired game, and a series that had treated South Africa as a guinea pig that has been well preserved.
In any case, you should get caught before the people who came out today are too sorry. They will bring back memories of one of the most exciting sights in World Cricket, treated like a De-Kock special that pushes the limits of what a man can achieve with natural talent alone. It was close – an ankle boot, to be specific – snooping in his embryonic stages when de Kock Usman Shinwari had driven with his innings that had just begun, just to narrowly cross the hero of the last game.
It was a criminal mistake, and de Kock began to punish Shinwari and his side properly. Shinwari himself was toned for 18 in an over-shot, while de Kock was not afraid to take the shortest ball from Pakistan’s fastest bowler in the 19th round, handing both deliveries over his shoulder for 6s. He had previously dismantled Shadab Khan, disrupting his line with repeated backward moves and punishing him with more conventional punches as he missed his length.
Through the middle stadiums, South Africa drew Pakistan back with clinical efficiency, not only reducing the damage at an early stage, but also limiting the number of visitors to 240. It was the all-rounders rather than the bowlers who hit Pakistan hardest: Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius and Wiaan Mulder share five wickets to establish the series win.
Despite the fact that teams that beat first had lost only two times in Newlands in the last 18 years after posting 240, and in 23 of the last 29 games the chase was defeated, you decided to Plessis, Pakistan to the first place.
That all four games in the series were previously won by the second team may have played a role, with the South African captain giving priority to recent history rather than keeping records over the years. Dale Steyn made the best possible start. Pakistan’s leading scorer Imam-ul-Haq dropped third to third.
Fakhar Zaman was more laid back than he had been lately, perhaps carried on an early lifeline, punishing the distance outside the stump regularly during his innings. The cut through the ceiling was his most productive shot, but on the other hand he was nearly as well trained, and anything near the body was not suitable for the right-angled leg.
That Pakistan had South Africa in the back and was able to aim early for a total of 275, was almost entirely up to him. When Phehlukwayo dismissed him, Imran Tahir had hit the fine leg with a foot of millimeters after touching the border. He had made 70 out of 73, and that was as good as it would come for Pakistan.
This almost brought Pakistan to a standstill. Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Hafeez and Shadab Khan were unable to get the innings back on track. Rizwan, who had the rare opportunity to impress, was found to be too weak that day. Pakistan’s second-choice second-placed could never get his innings on course, and Pretorius seduced him as he tried a wild slogan.
He had scored only 10 of 30 balls and was an emblem for the work of his team in the middle. In the 16 overs that followed the dismissal of Fakhar Zaman, only 52 points were scored. If Pakistan once dreamed of 275, they now had to fight for 240.
The tempo trio of Phehlukwayo, Mulder and Pretorius has got the Mediterranean under control. They varied their pace at this time, a major reason why the batsmen never found the right time to get their innings going. The frustration boiled up in the way they ran between the gates;
When a mix-up between Shadab and Shoaib meant that the captain was out of control, it surprised no one – frenetic running and jumbled heads had given this approach the feeling of inevitability. It was almost a wicket that you could add to the balance of bowler Pretorius, with the spout coming from the last ball of a frustratingly tight end. The series was sealed in these moments before lunch.