Pakistan roar back through bowlers
Pakistan 222 (Misbah 56, Steyn 3-30) beat South Africa 202 (de Villiers 77, Rahat 3-40, Wahab 3-45, Irfan 3-52) by 29 runs (D/L method)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
This was the game this World Cup needed. This is the team this World Cup needed. It was getting pretty bland out here without the Pakistan bowlers. Defending only 231 in 47 overs at the small Eden Park, their left-arm quicks turned it on like only those from that part of the world can. Under pressure of the chase South Africa crumbled yet again - except for one man, captain AB de Villiers, who scored 77 off 58 and threatened to singlehandedly steal the game, but once he became the ninth man to get out with 32 to get, Pakistan were assured of a win. The win gave Pakistan clearer passage to the quarter-final. They now have two bites at the cherry: they can go through directly with a win over Ireland or, if they lose, they are a good shot to sneak through on net run rate.
In true Pakistan fashion, they tested our patience and tested our patience and then tested it some more until almost everyone had given up. Everybody knew Sarfraz Ahmed needed to play ahead of somebody. Anybody. Umar Akmal, part-time wicketkeeper, had been dropping at least a catch every match. Pakistan's team management was the only one that didn't see it. Until this game. Sarfraz came in, knocked off a run-a-ball 49 to give them the previously missing purpose and impetus at the start of an innings and followed it up with six catches, including the diving one-handed beauty to send back Hashim Amla after the batsman had successfully taken on every bowler until then.
Sarfraz's bowlers bowled beautifully to provide him the opportunities to take those six catches. Right from the first over when Mohammad Irfan got Quinton de Kock with an unplayable delivery - short of a length, on off, seaming away, bouncing extra because of Irfan's height - the bowlers bowled with craft, aggression and acumen. South Africa responded to de Kock's wicket with a classy counterattack from Amla and Faf du Plessis. Amla hit eight fours, to almost every part of the ground, before he took his first single. Du Plessis matched his nine fours with three fours and a six.
This was around the time the game usually starts to slip away. This was when Pakistan went to Rahat Ali and Wahab Riaz. You need a bit of luck to win such games, and the luck arrived Pakistan's way here. Both du Plessis and Amla followed each other at opening the face to deliveries short of a length, with slips in place. These were nothing shots that could only bring harm. And Sarfraz was there to make sure the harm was inflicted. His grab low to his right to send Amla back is hard to imagine with poor Akmal clearly out of his comfort zone behind the stumps. Wahab followed it up with a bouncers that Rilee Rossouw deposited with fine leg.
Now that Pakistan had a sniff they went on all-out attack. They knew the only way they were going to win after another middling batting display was by taking wickets. They would have known South Africa's poor chasing record: one win out of last nine times they have been asked to chase 270, and three out of 13 chasing 240. This wasn't in that category. Pakistan needed every bit extra to create panic and confusion here apart from having turned 67 for 1 into 74 for 4.
The next 20 balls - bowled by Wahab and Rahat - produced just three runs. David Miller, who much like other South Africans has proved to be a great frontrunner, got one ball short and wide at the end of the 15th over. This goes for four 10 times out of 10 with Miller batting first. Here it went straight to cover. No timing at all. This is the time when palms begin to perspire inside gloves. This is the time when you need to weather the storm for a bit. The asking rate was still only 4.87. South Africa could afford to take it easy. Pakistan couldn't afford to let them. They needed to manufacture a wicket. Rahat, who had slipped in a fair few bouncers, manufactured it with a yorker that would have taken out the middle and leg stumps. This was special. Pakistan needed nothing short of special.
In the company of de Villiers, JP Duminy tried to mount a counterattack. Three consecutive fours were hit over the 16th and 17th overs. Things were slipping again. This game was refusing to slow down. Misbah-ul-Haq, infamous for not taking the game head on with bat in hand, went against the instinct. He called back Irfan. This uprising needing to be squashed. Fourth ball into Irfan's spell, Duminy top-edged a hook to make it 102 for 6 in the 20th over.
The game refused to slow down. Dale Steyn, who had taken earlier a stunning catch to dismiss Ahmed Shehzad to go with his three wickets, also counterattacked. At the other end the nerveless de Villiers kept creaming boundaries. His two sixes and a four in the 21st over, bowled by Wahab, made a mockery of the pressure that would have been. His team has a dodgy reputation when it comes to chasing but here was de Villiers hitting everything clean as.
When Steyn joined in the fun, hitting two boundaries off an Irfan over thanks to the highly aggressive fields, South Africa had brought the target down to 98 at exactly the halfway mark of the 47-over chase. When he tried to make it three fours, though, the bounce got too big and the outside edge settled with Sarfraz. Irfan was struggling with discomfort in his hip, but he had three wickets now.
De Villiers responded with more attack, hitting Shahid Afridi for back-to-back sixes in the 29th over, the first of which brought up his fifty, but Pakistan kept finding ways to keep coming back into the match. Kyle Abbott, who had played sensibly to take South Africa to 172 for 7, couldn't help edging a shortish angled delivery low to second slip. Now was the time de Villiers - 56 off 47 - had to start farming the strike. He did, and took the attack up a notch.
This was now Pakistan against one man. This one man didn't want to approach it like MS Dhoni does: take it to the bitter end and reduce it to a one on one. This man was dragging the whole game away on his own. He even called for a Powerplay. Pakistan gambled. They went to Sohail Khan, the weakest link on the day, but a good death bowler. This was also about the attack, though. Twenty-three came off the first 13 balls of the Powerplay, reducing the runs needed to 32.
De Villiers' ploy against Sohail had to be to charge at him, and then hit him into the vast expanses that present themselves during Powerplays. He did so again. Sohail dug this one in short. De Villiers still swung. This one got awkwardly high. De Villiers was not in control. The top edge was taken. Coolly Sarfraz accepted it. Deliriously he celebrated. Others joined in. They knew this was the game. Wahab just came in and completed the formalities with Imran Tahir's wicket. South Africa will have to wait for another day to prove to the world they are not just attractive frontrunners in limited-overs cricket, that they can chase under pressure.
Immediately it began to rain, as if to celebrate with Pakistan. It was finally coming together for them. They did get the start they needed, thanks to Sarfraz's energy and intent, but they kept losing wickets in irregular fashion but at regular intervals. Even de Villiers snared a wicket. Misbah continued to polarise. His slow start sucked the momentum out of the innings, but then again he stood tall amid the shambles that may or may not have been an indirect result of that go-slow in the first place. Spells of rain reduced the match to 47 overs a side, and their score of 222 was adjusted to a target of 232 by the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method.
The low score was mainly down to a disappointing batting performance - from 92 for 1 in the 17th over and 175 for 4 in the 37th - but Pakistan are doing it a step at a time. They still have time to sort their batting approach out.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo