South Africa 207 for 5 (Van der Dussen 80*, Phehlukwayo 69*, Shaheen 3-44, Shadab 2-46) beat Pakistan 203 (Hasan 59, Sarfraz 41, Phehlukwayo 4-22, Shamsi 3-56) by five wickets
A couple of hours into the game, you might have switched this off, assuming a comfortable victory for South Africa. While that is exactly what it was in the end, the circuitous path this match took to get to that point made it arguably the most dramatic game of the entire tour. It needed a sixth-wicket partnership of 127 between Andile Phehlukwayo and Rassie van der Dussen to level the series in what had begun to look like improbable circumstances. Phehlukwayo and van der Dussen both scored unbeaten half-centuries, seeing their side through to the end. It was very much Phehlukwayo's game, the Player of the Match achieving his best-ever bowling figures (4 for 22) and his highest score with the bat (75*).
South Africa could have been chasing far less than 204. They did so thanks to a blistering half-century by Hasan Ali that rescued Pakistan from 112 for 8. Then, a stunning opening spell from Shaheen Afridi thrust the hosts onto the back foot early in their chase. The 18-year-old removed Hashim Amla, Reeza Hendricks and Faf du Plessis within the first 15 balls of his spell as South Africa slumped to 29 for 3. When Shadab Khan dismissed David Miller and Heinrich Klassen off successive balls, the hosts had lost half their side for 80 and Pakistan smelled blood.
Early in his innings, it seemed improbable that Phehlukwayo would be the man to guide South Africa home. He charged Shadab when the bowler looked unplayable, looked to swipe across the line when he was miles from the pitch of the ball. Shadab was, initially, almost amused at what he saw as the left-hander's ineptitude with the bat; his departure almost appeared a matter of time. When he was adjudged lbw with South Africa at 92, he was reprieved only by dint of the ball spinning too much.
But against the odds, Phehlukwayo persisted, hanging around and scoring runs even when he played ill-advised shots. He reverse-swept and charged down the ground, swept across the line and skied the ball into the Durban night. It all brought runs, the dismissal seemingly around the corner but always elusive. Alongside him van der Dussen almost went unnoticed, even when he shouldn't have been. He had been involved in an excellent little partnership with David Miller after the top order had been blown away, and when Phehlukwayo's flamboyance stole the show, van der Dussen was mature enough to realise his role was a supporting one. Off the back off 93 on ODI debut, he finished unbeaten on 80 here today, including the winning runs with eight overs still to spare.
Sent in to bat, Pakistan continued to have issues with the short ball, even if it was at Durban where the quicks have lately tended to get less assistance from the pitch. Pakistan seemed to be back in the Test series, where the short ball was an unconquerable demon, and Duanne Olivier and Kagiso Rabada invincible tormentors. A series of dismissals when the ball was pitched short hampered Pakistan early on, before an inspired performance from Tabraiz Shamsi, deputising for Imran Tahir, reduced them to 112 for 8. The left-arm wristspinner, fighting for a World Cup spot, took three wickets, and at one point appeared to have set his side up for a seemingly straightforward chase.
It required the most delightful joie de vivre sort of innings from Hasan, a character who matches that description to the fullest, to keep Pakistan in the contest, his uncomplicated hitting helping Pakistan recover to 203. Hasan was responsible for 59 of the 90 runs which came in a ninth-wicket partnership with Sarfraz Ahmed, and was last man dismissed after Phehlukwayo returned to remove both batsmen in the 46th over.
Hasan's innings remained in spirit the typical knock of a have-a-go hero, but the sweet timing of the strikes against legitimately world-class bowling gave it an unexpected air of classiness. It was only thanks to career-best figures from Phehlukwayo that his merrymaking didn't go on even longer.
Du Plessis won the toss again, this time deciding to bowl after much criticism around his side's failure to pace their innings well in Port Elizabeth. Pace was never a problem for his fast bowlers, though, who accounted for Pakistan's top four in the first hour with deliveries that grew big on the batsmen. Imam-ul-Haq mistiming a pull shot off a Rabada ball was a harbinger for what was to come, and Babar Azam was dismissed cheaply much the same way. Then came the now-customary Fakhar Zaman dismissal off a short ball, when Olivier got one to rise towards his grille, the batsman fending it off to gully.
The middle overs might have been an opportunity for rebuilding, but Shamsi had other ideas. The first ball of his spell drew an edge from Malik that first slip would have pouched had one been placed, and off his fourth delivery he snared fellow spinner Shadab Khan. It wasn't long before debutant Hussain Talat, curiously promoted ahead of Sarfraz, fell to perhaps the ball of the innings. An exquisite stock ball beat Talat's outside edge, drawing him out of his crease while Heinrich Klaasen deftly removed the bails.
The game might have ended on a similar note of South African joy and Pakistani despair, but for a short while in the middle, this was a proper contest. The series is very much alive and now, with the ODIs moving to faster surfaces, du Plessis's men will feel confident they have the upper hand.