Gibbs and de Villiers set up victory
South Africa continued the impressive form that won them the Test series and went up 1-0 in the one-dayers by beating Pakistan by 45 runs in Lahore. Twin centuries from Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers helped them amass a challenging total on a flat pitch, before Makhaya Ntini's four-wicket burst shut out Pakistan's chances of making a fight of the chase.
Needing a brisk start to have realistic hopes of overhauling South Africa's 294, Pakistan's batsmen succumbed to the pace and bounce of a rejuvenated Ntini, who had looked out of sorts until the final day of the second Test. Coming wide of the crease and cramping the batsmen for room, Ntini slowed down Pakistan's progress after their openers came out firing.
Imran Nazir, who had earlier driven Shaun Pollock through the covers, edged a lifter for four over the slips off Ntini before elegantly driving one off the back foot for another boundary. However, he then smashed a full delivery straight into the hands of Justin Kemp at short extra-cover to give South Africa their first breakthrough.
Several Pakistan batsmen got off to starts but failed to build and make a big score. Younis Khan and Mohammad Hafeez lost their wickets to poor strokes and when Shoaib Malik's leading edge was taken at cover, Pakistan were struggling at 55 for 4.
Mohammad Yousuf and Misbah-ul-Haq stabilised the innings temporarily but Misbah's top edge and Yousuf's uppish drive to short midwicket, after a battling 53, left Shahid Afridi and co with 153 to get off the last 15 overs. Afridi signalled his intent by pulling his second ball for six and soon the boundaries began to flow. He drove powerfully down the ground, flicked deftly over short fine leg, blasted fours through point and all of a sudden Pakistan were in with an outside chance.
Afridi and Shoail Tanvir, however, were left with too much to do and their dismissals - Tanvir bowled as he moved too far across his stumps, and Afridi caught at long-on - as the asking-rate approached ten an over, ended Pakistan's challenge. South Africa's 294 was too much to get after the poor start that Pakistan had.
South Africa's innings, however, had a superb start with Graeme Smith and Gibbs adding 85 for the first wicket, but it was the partnership between Gibbs and de Villiers - 137 for the 3rd wicket - that built the platform.
de Villiers came to the crease after two wickets had fallen in quick time. Smith was run out and Jacques Kallis, Pakistan's tormentor-in chief in the Tests, was caught and bowled by Afridi. The situation demanded patience for Afridi was bowling a tight line and boundaries were difficult to come by.
Both batsmen relied on singles and twos and kept the scoreboard ticking. Gibbs, who had impressed with his front-foot drives against the fast bowlers, cut Afridi past point and then swept him to midwicket to break the shackles. He soon moved back into destructive mode and drove Umar Gul past mid-off for four after the ball was changed in the 35th over. After reached his 18th ODI century, Gibbs slipped while turning for a second run and was found short of his crease as Kamran Akmal effected his second run out of the match.
Gibbs' departure brought about a change in tempo from de Villiers. Having been content with singles and occasional boundary earlier, he moved into overdrive. As the bowlers strove for extra pace and bowled the yorkers consistently at the death, de Villiers capitalised on the slightest of errors and dispatched Gul and Tanvir over long-on for sixes while a few streaky edges and drives brought him more boundaries.
As he drove Rao Iftkhar past point for his ninth four to bring up his century, de Villiers had set South Africa a firm foundation from where the bowlers took charge and enabled the visitors to take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series.
Faras Ghani is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo