Will the pendulum swing again?
Friday, November 8, 2013
Start time 1500 local (1100GMT)
Followers of this series could easily think they've woken up in March, or even in 2010, when these two sides last met in five-ODI series. The result went South Africa's way in the first game, Pakistan's in the second and back to South Africa in the third. History would tell us it's Pakistan's turn again in the fourth, and they need a victory in Abu Dhabi to stay alive in the series.
South Africa, however, could break the pendulum swing of the score line because their batting has improved more than Pakistan's. On the Abu Dhabi pitch, which has proved the most conducive for run-scoring, South Africa seem to have an advantage but whether they have the temperament to make it count remains to be seen.
The two bowling attacks, who tore into opposing batting line-ups in the first two matches, were somewhat nullified by an unhelpful pitch in the third game. Pakistan were blunted more severely by batsmen who were willing to apply themselves. Mohammad Irfan still caused problems and Pakistan will need him and the spinners to be at their best to level the series.
South Africa will be happier but not entirely satisfied with the changes they made to their line-up. They will still demand more from the batsmen, especially as the bowlers cannot be asked to do much more. Should they win on Friday, it will be the first time South Africa would have won an ODI series before the final game since they blanked New Zealand 3-0 in 2011-12.
Pakistan LWLWW (last five completed games, most recent first) South Africa WLWLL
Watch out for
Pakistan need more competent performances from their two Umars, Amin and Akmal, if they keep their places. Both batsmen have been guilty of needless soft dismissals - think Akmal handing Imran Tahir a return catch off a full toss - and Amin needs to tighten up outside his off stump. They need to make their adjustments quickly or the series could fall out of Pakistan's grasp.
South Africa's improvement with the bat in the third match included two of their batsmen getting half-centuries, and with the fourth fixture being played on the same placid surface in Abu Dhabi, they will be looking for someone to score a hundred. JP Duminy appears the likeliest candidate. As South Africa's top scorer from the previous match and the most comfortable batsman against the spinners, he may be the man to score the first century of the series.
Pakistan moved Mohammad Hafeez back to the top of the order for the third match and will probably keep him there with Ahmed Shehzad. With the middle order still a concern, it may be time to consider handing Sohaib Maqsood a debut and bringing in Sarfraz Ahmed as wicketkeeper. Wahab Riaz has been unsuccessful with the ball, and Junaid Khan could be a handy replacement.
Pakistan: 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Ahmed Shehzad, 3 Umar Amin/Sohaib Maqsood 4 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 5 Asad Shafiq, 6 Umar Akmal/Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Sohail Tanvir, 9 Wahab Riaz/Junaid Khan, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Mohammad Irfan.
With Graeme Smith out of the series, Quinton de Kock will get another opportunity to open and will probably keep wicket as well, although AB de Villiers appears more suited to the task. Faf du Plessis seemed to prefer batting at No.3, so he should stay there with JP Duminy at No.4. Dale Steyn was clutching his hamstring and groin at various points in the third match and if there is a lingering niggle, he could make way for either Wayne Parnell or Vernon Philander, who has not played a match so far.
South Africa:1 Hashim Amla, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 JP Duminy 5 AB de Villiers (capt), 6 David Miller, 7 Ryan McLaren, 8 Dale Steyn/Wayne Parnell/Vernon Philander, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Lonwabo Tsotsobe, 11 Imran Tahir
Stats and trivia
- AB de Villiers is 148 runs behind Jacques Kallis as South Africa's leading run-scorer in ODIs against Pakistan.
- Shahid Afridi has played in more ODIs than anyone else in Abu Dhabi, with 19 appearances to date.
"It's the same old story. I think we need to think about our batting if we want to save the series. Our batsmen get starts but are not able to convert them into big scores, and we all have to think that 20s and 30s are not going to win matches for us."
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq
"Dale is a wonderful bowler. He's close to perfect. He brings in intensity to the team and he ups the pace of the game. He brings this intensity which is irreplaceable."
South Africa captain AB de Villiers
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent