Pakistan choke in sight of victory
Pakistan squandered a great chance to pocket their first one-day series win over South Africa with a brand of strokeplay that was more suited to chasing ten-an-over than a measly 3.6. A comfortable 149 for 2 turned to a slightly tricky 199 for 4 before panic set in. One injudicious slog after another produced a collapse that read: six overs, 20 runs, six wickets.
South Africa kept the pressure with accurate bowling and outstanding catching - AB de Villiers' run from point to the boundary to dismiss Shahid Afridi put a seal on it - but it still didn't warrant such a botch-up.
Graeme Smith's half-baffled, half-ecstatic expressions resembled those of a little boy who had got away with poaching a chocolate bar. Despite the game running away, his side refused to give in and stepped up their game just when it mattered. Albie Morkel overcame his early horrors of conceding 20 runs in two overs to keep his cool at the death but it was the fielding that made the big difference: de Villiers' special being complemented with Jean-Paul Duminy's sharp one running back from point.
Pakistan's batsmen will be asking themselves a few serious questions. Shoaib Malik's wild swing against a searing inswinger, with the ball only recently changed, was indiscreet; Misbah-ul-Haq did little to suggest that he could keep his calm at the finish; and Afridi walked the tightrope before giving it away. The tailenders buckled under the tremendous pressure and a series was gone in the blink of an eye.
The final stages overshadowed what went earlier. A sparkling fifty from Herschelle Gibbs and a ponderous one from Jacques Kallis had boosted South Africa but a nagging few middle overs from the spinners and a superb late spell from Shoaib Akhtar, when he troubled not so much with searing pace as much as with the lack of it, kept them down to 233.
It didn't take long for Shoaib, taking part in a one-day game for the first time in more than a year, to make an impact. Off his third legal ball he forced Smith to play on and could have had Kallis early, when Kamran Akmal muffed a waist-high chance behind the stumps. Shoaib, though, wasn't to be deterred in his second spell: he returned to dismiss Mark Boucher with a sharp lifter and fox Albie Morkel with a slower one that dislodged his stumps. It was his change of length that did most of the trick with batsmen having to contend with dangerous yorkers mixing with loopy slower ones.
Kallis dug himself in from there, occupying the crease to find his groove: his first 73 runs included just three fours and it was only towards the end that he freed his arms. The 70 dots and 51 singles explain his struggle to get back into form. In comparison, Gibbs and Duminy expressed themselves.
Gibbs made the most of Pakistan's indiscipline with the ball and clipped crisply off his pads. He targeted Sohail Tanvir's left-arm allsorts and sorted out Afridi's whippy straight ones too. Duminy was busy in his 64-ball stay, nudging it around and finding the gaps with ease. His skill against the spinners came in handy, especially with Abdur Rehman turning in a fine spell in the middle overs, a passage of play when Pakistan fought back into the contest.
A century stand between Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan motored Pakistan to the target. Younis improvised cheekily - moving across the stumps, walking down, and making room - and Yousuf controlled the innings with customary cool. That same cool went missing once the pair were separated and Pakistan found themselves in a whirlpool of panic. It was to cost them the series.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo