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October 19, 2007
Whatever happens tomorrow will be overshadowed by what happened in Karachi yesterday. At such times cricket appears more frivolous than it might to the uninitiated but the match, the tour goes on unchanged. The situation may change, but for future tours to Pakistan, the commendable decision to continue, reached by the two boards and security officials may well set a precedent.
If Pakistan can rouse themselves out of the apathy, the listlessness that has gripped them through this series, it may even bring a little cheer to matters. As they did in the Test series, Pakistan unveiled another strangely unbalanced combination during the first ODI at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore: heavy on batting, light on bowling. The result? South Africa controlled much of the contest and Pakistan were in it only at the very end, and even then barely.
Shoaib Malik, the captain, suggested his bowlers had done well to restrict South Africa to under 300; commendable though they were in spurts, they never looked like taking wickets, which isn't a bad way to control runs. A specialist or two - why not chance Danish Kaneria for an extended ODI twirl in this new era? - wouldn't go amiss. Abdur Rehman, Pakistan's leading wicket-taker in the Test series and with handy ODI numbers, may sneak in to replace Mohammad Hafeez. Kamran Akmal has form in front of the stumps and on another good pitch could well open.
Promisingly, Sohail Tanvir was not only impressive for eight of his nine overs, he didn't look too shabby with the bat either. In only three balls at the Twenty20 World Cup final, he showed some batting skill and he built upon that impression in the first ODI; the team management are also fans and may consider utilising him in a different manner.
Indeed, such was Pakistan's batting depth in the first match - and it failed in any case - that Shahid Afridi came as low as number eight: a position Graeme Smith later expressed surprise over. But back he was and sometimes with Afridi that is enough. What spark Pakistan did show came through him, first with the ball and later with the bat. It hasn't been commented upon yet, but Afridi's position in this side is one he has never been in before: as its' most senior, most experienced member. He looked it on Thursday and Pakistan will hope he does again tomorrow.
If off-field events hang heavy in the air still, little on the field will disturb Smith and South Africa. Their 45-run win was perfect in many ways, as a start to the series, as a continuation of their Test form and as a game in itself. Two batsmen made hundreds so beautifully-paced, they should be put into an ODI batting manual.
But more than the form of Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers, the return to form of Makhaya Ntini would've pleased South Africa. A drab tour suddenly turned brighter, bouncier for Ntini as he demolished Pakistan's top-order with four wickets. Runs were taken off him later - death bowling one of Smith's minor concerns - but his bit had already been done.
It was Ntini's first four-wicket haul in 25 matches; more acutely it was only the second time in his last 17 ODIs that he has taken more than one wicket in a match. South Africa have won 12 of those games, suggesting there is life without him. But only half have come against serious opposition which tells its own story.
Not much is expected to change by way of conditions and big runs again are likely. In which case, Malik winning his first toss of the series might also help Pakistan's cause. They have yet to show some coherence, some solidity in their game, but tomorrow would be as auspicious a moment as any to start.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Kamran Akmal (wk), 2 Imran Nazir, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Shoaib Malik (capt), 6 Misbah-ul-Haq, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Sohail Tanvir, 9 Abdur Rehman, 10 Rao Iftikhar Anjum, 11 Umar Gul
South Africa (probable): 1 Herschelle Gibbs, 2 Graeme Smith (capt), 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 AB de Villiers, 5 Justin Kemp, 6 Mark Boucher (wk), 7 Shaun Pollock, 8 Albie Morkel, 9 Johan Botha, 10 Makhaya Ntini, 11 Charl Langeveldt