Pakistan v South Africa, Champions Trophy, Group B, Edgbaston June 8, 2017

Pakistan bounce back with commitment, belief and desire

It wasn't a perfect performance but it came against the No. 1 ODI team. And it did provide a reminder that, for all their frailty with the bat, they have a potent bowling attack that can win them games

Just when even their most loyal supporters were beginning to lose faith, just as the cornered tigers had started to look like tamed kittens, long after the cliché about them being mercurial had become not so much a description, as a desperate expression of hope, Pakistan go and do something like this.

You didn't think they had become predictable, did you?

Victory here - albeit in another rain-ravaged match in a tournament that is in danger of drowning - not only revives their hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals, but suggests things are not quite as bad as they seemed against India on Sunday night.

Nobody should think that all Pakistan's issues are resolved. They still lack big-hitting batsmen; they still have a long tail; they still need to find a way to produce more batsmen and they probably benefited from the shortened nature of the match. For some, this performance will just render Sunday's drubbing all the more frustrating. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the magnitude of that occasion simply rattled them.

But this victory did come against the world's No.1 ranked ODI team. And it did provide a reminder that, for all their frailty with the bat, they have a potent bowling attack that, given just a bit of support from its fielders, can win them games.

There were several factors behind Pakistan's improvement, not least the selection, the fielding and an oddly-tentative performance from South Africa who, it has to be said, played a large part in their own downfall. This was almost a stereotypical performance from both teams, with one unpredictably brilliant and the other unpredictably wilting under pressure. It was all so very Pakistan. And all so very South Africa.

But the key ingredient was reverse swing. In a tournament that has been characterised by the impotence of bowlers, Pakistan at last found a way to make the ball move laterally. It was only an inch or two; it was only for a while. But that reverse swing gave Pakistan a weapon and they have bowlers who knew how to use it.

The swing was probably created by the surface. With poor weather convincing the groundsman to abandon plans to use a new pitch - he was concerned it would start damp, the ball would make indentations in it and it would then be unsuitable for usage in Saturday's match between England and Australia - it was decided, instead, to revert to the surface used in the first two matches of this tournament at Edgbaston.

That meant it was drier and a bit more abrasive than previous matches. And with Pakistan introducing spin into the attack early, allowing them to scuff up one side of the balls perfectly legally, the Pakistan seamers were able to return as early as the 23rd over and Hasan Ali struck in the 29th - meaning that ball was only 15 overs old - and attack at a time batsmen have been tending to dominate in this tournament.

Play 03:28
Fleming: Hasan Ali could play more prominent role with new ball

Hasan struck with successive deliveries in that over. Angling the ball into JP Duminy from around the wicket, Hasan persuaded it to leave the left-handed batsman just a touch but enough to draw the edge and reward Pakistan for persisting with a slip when they saw the first signs of movement. Wayne Parnell fell in almost identical fashion to the next delivery, only he missed the ball entirely and lost his off stump as a consequence.

By then, though, Pakistan's spinners had already claimed three wickets out of six. After Junaid Khan, far more accurate than the injured Wahab Riaz, and Mohammad Amir conceded only three fours in the first Powerplay, the spinners built pressure. While there was little sign of any turn, the pitch was slow enough to render stroke-making a little more difficult than has been the case so far this tournament and, with Imad Wasim and Mohammad Hafeez bowling admirably straight, any mistake by South Africa's jittery batsmen was punished.

To apply any pressure, though, it was essential Pakistan produced a better display in the field. They were unrecognisable from the rabble we saw on Sunday. From the first moments, throws buzzed back towards the keeper in the field. Fielders threw themselves around in an attempt to cut-off the ball - Hasan launched himself full length to save a run in the opening minutes - and all the trepidation of Sunday was replaced with commitment, belief and desire.

There was still a ghost from the past. Ahmed Shehzad, dropped after his apparently ambivalent performance in the first match, was briefly pressed into use as a substitute fielder and promptly conceded a run after letting the ball bobble through his hands at cover. On Sunday, such errors hardly stuck out as they were the norm; here it was an infuriating aberration.

Shehzad's replacement also impressed with the bat on his ODI debut. While it would be an exaggeration to say Fakhar Zaman was completely convincing - he took two crushing blows off bouncers, one to the head and another to the shoulder - he was wonderfully committed to the cause. By the time he had faced 11 deliveries, he had struck more fours (three) than anyone in the South Africa side and by the time he had faced 18, he had struck three more. It was exactly the bold start a nervous Pakistan side required and in stark contrast to Shehzad's cagey performance of Sunday. It allowed them to soak up later pressure - at one stage they faced three maidens in succession and scored only four runs in five overs - and ensure they were still ahead of the rate when the rain came.

But the improvement on Sunday's performance was best summed-up by Hasan's fielding. Having failed to hold on to a chance off Yuvraj Singh at long-off - and failing to reach another possible chance - he took two in a similar position here with the second, to dismiss Kagiso Rabada, an excellent running effort.

It wasn't, by any means, a perfect performance. But it was a decent step in the right direction.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • anman on June 10, 2017, 16:52 GMT

    The issue with us Pakistani fan is that we get excited about everything! Yes, Wahab departure and Zaman's entry into the tournament team is refreshing and give us a bleak hope. BUT the reality is that Pakistan is number 8 in ranking. We are the WEAKEST team in this tournament. We have won only one game that too a rain-laid DL match. New team chemistry takes time. Pakistan's bowling, fielding and batting is not mature enough to compete at this level, ESPECIALLY when there's any pressure and stress involved (i.e. match against India). I wish good luck to them and hoping that they can wrong me :)

  • cardmak on June 10, 2017, 0:54 GMT

    Refreshing to see a new face F Zaman. Batted beautifully until he got out. He played selfless cricket. Unlike others Shahzad, Hafeez who only play to keep their spot in the team. They are truly selfish cricketers who play for themselves and should have been jettisoned from the team long time back. Bring in new blood who are ready to play aggressive, modern cricket and keep the batting tempo up. Poor fielding should be inexcusable. Pakistan has a decent bowling line up with Hasan Ali bowling very well. He is a good find for Pakistan. Sarfaraz would be better suited opening the innings like Gilchrist did for Australia and deKock for South Africa.

  • ahmednaveed on June 9, 2017, 23:12 GMT

    Pakistan selection committee is outdated they are old traditional players and dont know anything about modern cricket and same applied to current pakistan batting coach . To improve the team PCB should first update the selection with people having sense of Modern Cricket and bring a best modern cricket batting coach then The bunch dot ball player in current will automatically removed .

  •   Khaista Rehman on June 9, 2017, 22:54 GMT

    Even Bangladesh showed their batting class but PCB will always say that we have experienced Malik. Pakistan won due to rain, bowling and Fakhr Zaman batting only. but it doesn't work always. Currently it is necessary to improve your batting and can be done using new comers and get rid of Malik, hafeez and Shahzad etc.

  •   cricfan62285052 on June 9, 2017, 22:30 GMT

    Trust me guys batting order should b like this against srilanka as pak have good record against srilanka..1.fakhar zaman 2. Hafeez 3.babar 4. Haris sohail 5. Malik 6.sarfraz 7.fahim ashraf 8.imaad 9.Hasan Ali 10. Amir 11.junaid/roman raees... if this teams playes I hope everyone will see the difference GO Green !!!

  • NRaza on June 9, 2017, 19:28 GMT

    1- Sharjeel Khan 2- Fakhar Zaman 3- Sarfaraz Ahmed 4- Shoaib Malik 5- Umar Akmal 6- Haris Sohail 7- Imad Wasim 8- Faheem Ashraf 9- Shadab Khan 10- Mohammad Amir 11- Hasan Ali

  • IsrAr-Ahmed on June 9, 2017, 16:19 GMT

    Pakistan team for Srilanka match should be ; 1) Fakhar Zaman, 2) Hafeez (As we have no choice), 3) Babar Azam, 4) Haris Sohail, 5) Sarfaraz 6) Shoaib Malik, 7) Imad Wasim, 8) Faheem Ashraf or Shadab 9) Amir 10) Hassan Ali, 11) Junaid or Roman Raees.

    There is no place for Azhar Ali. He is not fit for ODI cricket. Mr. Inzamam you should resign if you don't know how to select a team. Worst selection ever for an ICC event. We have so many good hard hitting batsmen waiting in First class but Inzamam is selecting time and time again useless players like Hafeez, Azhar Ali, Wahab Riaz, Ahmed Shahzad etc.

  • cricfan1642203313 on June 9, 2017, 11:31 GMT

    Please ask pakistani coach and captain to include harriss sohail instead of that so called leggy shadab khan who doesnt even turn the ball n luckily got just one wicket of shikhar dhawan he is of no use in english conditions .harris sohail is a good all rounder coz pak team needs a player who has batting ability as pak struggling for indepth batting so Mr Arthur and Mr Sarfraz open ur eyes n use ur brain before its too late please give harriss a chance in shadab place.

  • M.gundroo on June 9, 2017, 8:16 GMT

    Cardiff another batting paradise and a grave for all types of bowlers on a virgin strip.The team with strong batting line capable of scoring at least 300 will be the winner so strengthen your batting line. If it was not for DWL Pak would have struggled to achieve the modest target .Azhar will once again prove a liability,let Hafeez or sarfarz open. bring in Haaris sohail in the middle.Although all bowlers will suffer xpt Hasson, junaid will be the worst one,even in last low scoring match he had worse analysis on a very helpful pitch. Fahim can not be any worse bowler but will strengthen fragile batting line. if Fahim can not be trusted why has been selected .

  •   badboycricfan on June 9, 2017, 8:07 GMT

    Nice to see Pak will fight it out for semis spot with Sri 2 teams no one gave a chance but at least one will go thru....

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