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October 20, 2007
Pakistan have been trying to trip up South Africa on spin from the day they landed in the country. The strategy failed in the Test series but it finally paid dividends in the second ODI at the Gaddafi Stadium.
Umar Gul and Rao Iftikhar Anjum took six wickets between them but Graeme Smith felt the 20 overs in the middle from Shahid Afridi and Abdul Rehman were just as important. More so, Smith eagerly pointed out, given the surface that was used. "The surprising thing for us was that two wickets were prepared and they used the same wicket [from the first game]. It just proves to us how they are thinking at the moment.
"The toss played an important role and if we had won the toss we would have won the game: that is the question. Credit to Mohammad Yousuf who got them to 260 and that was always going to be a tough score to chase."
Losing two big wickets early didn't help but South Africa never pulled away from Pakistan at any stage. Smith's fifty was outrageously fortunate and at no stage did it really find a rhythm or flow. "It got really difficult in the middle overs. My plan was to get as many as I could because it's not easy for a left-hander when there is rough.
"At one stage we were just trying to get through for the ball change after 34 overs. When we got a harder ball, we saw what a difference it made. Shaun Pollock and Albie Morkel scored runs after that. It's hard work on a used wicket in the subcontinent when the ball gets old, but Afridi bowled a really tight spell and Rehman was getting a lot of turn."
Both sides travel to Faisalabad, the series nicely poised and improvements to come, but security remains an issue in the aftermath of Thursday's suicide bombing in Karachi. The players Smith said, had obviously been affected, but was adamant that in no way did it contribute to the result.
The surprising thing for us was that two wickets were prepared and they used the same wicket [from the first game]. It just proves to us how they [Pakistan] are thinking at the moment
The status of the last game in the port city also remains open to speculation, a bomb in the province of Balochistan in the morning doing little to help the situation. A high-level meeting between South African officials and the interior ministry in Islamabad is expected to produce a decision in the next day or so.
"We have to manage it on a day-to-day basis and rely on our security guys to give us feedback. When we have more feedback we will make a decision," Smith pragmatically acknowledged. For now, only on-field performances have to be managed.
Having finally won with spin, pitches different in nature from here on in would be surprising. South Africa have their own in Johan Botha. His over-the-wicket plan, Smith recognised, wasn't as successful as it was during the first game and he was far better from round it. But he will be expected to play a role as the series progresses.
"There are positives in the game," Smith said. "We can all improve 15 to 20% especially in the bowling. We didn't bowl badly but we can improve and bounce back from one-all."
Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge
Plays of the day from the tri-series match between Zimbabwe and South Africa