Teams poised for thrilling series decider
Match FactsNovember 8, Dubai
Start time 15:00 (11:00 GMT)
The Big Picture
An intriguing contest looms as Pakistan and South Africa head neck-and-neck into the final match of their limited-overs series. Pakistan were in this exact position in their last one-day last series, against England in September, having fought back from 2-0 down to set up what should have been a thrilling finale to their controversial English sojourn. As it happened, they capitulated pitifully on an autumnal evening at The Rose Bowl to hand England a 121-run win and the series.
Pakistan's mercurial style of play lends itself to such scenarios, and less than two months later a fittingly enthralling end to what has been a classic series is once again on the cards. It would be foolhardy to suggest a particular approach that Pakistan might take into Monday's encounter at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium; they could flourish or implode in equally spectacular fashion. But despite the seemingly obligatory disciplinary issues in the Pakistan camp ahead of the game, morale is undoubtedly high and with a noisy crowd behind them they could well surge to a series-stealing win.
Of course, South Africa have their own oft-repeated problems with 'choking' in crunch matches and will be hoping for a calmly professional performance to quieten those criticisms. The South Africans certainly started this series as the more fancied team, taking their dominance in the opening Twenty20 exchanges into the first ODI where they eased to a crushing eight-wicket win in the at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
But the three games since then have all been nail-bitingly close, and game No. 5 has the feel of a tournament final between two equally-matched teams. Can Pakistan overcome their indiscipline and inconsistency? Can South Africa finish the job and, with the World Cup just over 100 days away, show that the 'chokers' tag no longer fits them? There is plenty for both teams to gain from the final ODI.
Form guide(most recent first)
South Africa: LWLWW
Watch out for...
Younis Khan's return to Pakistan's middle order has brought a much-needed level of calmness and experience, and has already added two half-centuries in this series to take his career tally to 39 - along with six ODI hundreds. If they are to avoid a repeat of their shocker at Southampton in September, a solid contribution from him will be vitally important.
Graeme Smith is the kind of captain that looks to lead from the front, and won't shy away from his responsibilities at the top of the order as South Africa push for a series win. He is also reasonably consistent against Pakistan's attack, having managed 745 runs at 41.38 in 21 ODIs against them. Those runs include eight half-centuries, the last of which was Friday's well-paced 92.
Lonwabo Tsotsobe's back spasms continue to be a worry for South Africa, and once again they didn't have the firepower to restrict Pakistan in the closing overs on Friday. Wayne Parnell leaked 53 runs in less than nine overs in that game, and could make way for Rusty Theron, who is a canny operator at the death.
South Africa (possible): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 AB de Villiers (wk), 5 JP Duminy, 6 Colin Ingram, 7 David Miller 8 Johan Botha, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Rusty Theron
Pakistan seem to have struck a winning combination and, barring injury, are unlikely to mess with the line-up that fought so hard for Friday's series-levelling win.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Imran Farhat, 2 Mohammad Hafeez, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Asad Shafiq, 5 Fawad Alam, 6 Shahid Afridi (capt), 7 Abdul Razzaq, 8 Abdur Rehman, 9 Zulqarnain Haider (wk), 10 Wahab Riaz, 11 Shoaib Akhtar
Pitch and conditions
The same strip is being used for the third match in a row, and the low, slow bounce and grip for the spinners that has been exhibited by this pitch so far is sure to get more exaggerated. Of course, that didn't stop 549 runs being scored in the fourth match, and if the bowlers get it wrong they will still be punished. All of which makes a winning total rather hard to predict. What will be predictable, though, is the weather: there might be the odd cloud around on Monday but it should be hot and dry once again.
Stats and trivia
- Shoaib Akhtar has bowled reasonably well in this series without setting the world alight, and is Pakistan's leading wicket-taker with six scalps at 32.16. But his career average in ODIs against South Africa is very impressive indeed, with his tally currently at 26 wickets at an average of 21.53.
- Hashim Amla needs just four runs to reach 1,000 in ODIs in 2010. AB de Villiers is not far behind him at No. 3 on the 2010 runscorers list, and will also reach 1,000 for the year if he gets close to a hundred. Shahid Afridi, at No. 22, is the leading Pakistani runscorer, with 577 ODI runs to his name.
- Pakistan are yet to beat South Africa in a limited-overs series, and have not won a one-day series since they beat West Indies 3-0 the last time they were in Abu Dhabi in November 2008.
"This series is a very close affair, so we need to take all our chances and if we do then we will win the series, which will be a very good achievement considering our recent record."
Shahid Afridi knows just how important a series win could be as Pakistan look to move on from their recent controversies
"We obviously want to win the series, but you also want to see which players are available before the World Cup because this is our last chance to play on sub-continent type of pitches here."
South Africa coach Corrie Van Zyl has one eye on the not-too-distant future going into Monday's series decider.
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo