Pollock and Smith ensure series-levelling win
A clinical South Africa levelled the five-match series 2-2 with a seven-wicket win over Pakistan in Multan. The visitors boosted their chances of a comeback by restricting Pakistan to 230 after the hosts decided to bat on a flat surface.
Following that, Shaun Pollock and Graeme Smith effortlessly outclassed the opposition with a match-winning 159-run stand after Herschelle Gibbs got the ball rolling. Pakistan failed to really fire with the bat and they completely fizzled in the field, putting all the pressure on themselves going into the final ODI in Lahore.
The home side was put under the kosh by Gibbs, who exploited the Powerplays by using his feet against the pace bowlers to get width and elevation. Inside six overs the field was scattered - fine leg was in, mid-on up, a man square out on the off-side boundary - but Gibbs continued to make it look easy in the middle with 39 from 35 balls. A flustered Shoaib Malik called Shahid Afridi in the second Powerplay and the in-form man - enjoying an exceptional 2007 with bat and ball - - got Gibbs first ball courtesy Billy Bowden's error in judgment. The ball, fast and sliding down leg stump, caught Gibbs on the knee roll as he hopped up. Replays showed it would have missed leg stump.
If Pakistan thought they had made a breakthrough, they were to be sorely disappointed. As Mickey Arthur, South Africa's coach, suggested the day before, Pollock was promoted because of his ability to play spin well and score quickly. And that's what he did, cutting Afridi for repeated fours and sweeping Abdur Rehman's left-arm spin to minimise the spinners' effect. It didn't help Pakistan's cause that the ball didn't turn much, but Pollock rose to the occasion, hitting his 13th ODI half-century without any fuss.
There was simply no pressure on him. He found the gaps almost every time he played a shot but what stood out was his ability to pick up boundaries. Mohammad Asif returned for a second spell and was whipped off the pads before being driven through cover; then Pollock pulled him for four more. After dropping Smith and giving him his umpteenth life of the series, Umar Gul returned just to be slapped for four and six in successive balls by Pollock. With 12 to win and 14 for a hundred, Pollock holed out to long-off for 90 from 84 balls but there was little remorse as he walked off.
Smith, meanwhile, had been confident pushing off the front foot into the gaps as Pakistan's body language slumped. He struggled to sweep but was fluent when offered width. Smith only had seven boundaries in his 81 but it hardly mattered as he supported Pollock and held up one end.
Like he has all series, Smith grafted but with South Africa only chasing a moderate total his approach worked like a charm on an easy batting track. He fell with just three to win and fiercely admonished himself with his choice of shot, but South Africa wouldn't have complained. In a see-saw first half, a watchful partnership of 91 between Younis Khan and Malik lifted Pakistan from a precarious 38 for 3 before Andre Nel's double-strike brought the visitors back into the game.
Younis mostly waited, watched, nudged and steered, and at times preferred walking across and flicking the pace bowlers across the line as he chugged along to his first fifty of the series. While Younis used his feet and hit Johan Botha for six over long-on, Malik also ticked along to raise the run-rate to four an over. After inside-edging Botha onto his boot early in his innings, Malik settled down, dropping the wrists or tucking off his pads for singles. When Jacques Kallis was thrown the ball in the 32nd over Malik checked a drive to mid-off, falling for a 54-ball 45.
South Africa kicked down that window of opportunity, with Nel picking up Younis and Misbah-ul-Haq in the 38th over, both to loose shots. Kamran Akmal and Rehman then pushed Pakistan over 200 with some aggressive but chancy strokes in a 60-run seventh-wicket stand. South Africa aren't ranked No. 2 in the world for nothing, and they came out in ruthless fashion. Their aspirations of maintaining their record of never having lost a bilateral ODI series against Pakistan just got a whole lot easier.
Jamie Alter is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo