South Africa v Pakistan, 3rd ODI, Johannesburg March 17, 2013

SA stay cool to take series lead

As Shahid Afridi flayed the South African attack, memories of their last two, perhaps even three ODIs at the Wanderers came flooding back.

South Africa have not won at the Bullring since February 2008, losing to Australia, India and Sri Lanka in the process. The last two were close defeats in matches which underlined South Africa's problems with pressure. Against India, South Africa were bowled out for 189, chasing 191 and against Sri Lanka, they could not defend 312 despite having them eight down.

Every time Afridi breached the boundary, he provided another flashback to those fixtures. It was possible that, once again, South Africa would be beaten even though they should have been doing the beating.

What made this time different, according to AB de Villiers, is that South Africa did not panic. "I always felt we were in the game," he said. "Shahid Afridi played really well but I felt like we were in control I always felt our bowlers always had the skill to get him out."

He was not wrong because soon after Ryan McLaren's almost yorker-length low full toss had Afridi driving and playing on. Had McLaren not overstepped, Afridi would have been out for 73.

That ended up being just 15 runs short of what he eventually scored, but the shot Afridi followed that escape with would have sent alarm bells off in any captain's mind. De Villiers did his best to hit the snooze button after Afridi sent a ball over the Golf Course End stand.

"There was a bit of a breeze coming in and I when I looked at the shot I just didn't how he hit the ball that far," de Villiers admitted. "I forced myself to think, 'he is playing a great knock, there is no reason to get emotional, he is playing out of skin here. It's not as though we are bowling badly, but this guy is playing an amazing knock'. We've seen it all over the world, one guy can come in and take the game away, there is nothing you can do about that."

Eventually Lonwabo Tsotsobe managed to do something. Another full toss tempted Afridi but he holed out to long-off. South Africa still had to toil to remove the tail and a lack of yorkers made the job harder.

De Villiers explained it was not the plan to aim the toes, even though Allan Donald had earlier said it was. "That wasn't the plan. We wanted to go length and try and nick him off," he said of their plans to Afridi. "The rest of the time the bowlers hit their lengths well and bowled bouncers well, especially the slower ball bouncer."

That is exactly the delivery Donald said anyone could come up with and although change of pace got South Africa the first five wickets, they still needed something more potent at the end. For the three days between this match and the next one, that will be one of the things they will work on as they look to wrap up the series and string two consecutive wins together.

De Villiers believed the batsmen showed the right approach to becoming more consistent. In saying that, he was talking mostly about himself and Hashim Amla, who shared a world-record third wicket stand of 238. "In our body language, we showed that we are here to play," de Villiers said. "When we got a gut feel when a bowler is feeling a bit weak, we sensed it was time to take them on. That happened a few times."

While South Africa feel they have made a statement of intent, so do Pakistan. Despite defeat, they showed their ability and for Misbah, that was good enough. "Everybody believed that Pakistan can't play well while they are chasing, especially such a huge total. Today we showed that we can do that," he said. "It's all about the mind, you need to be positive."

Afridi also announced himself and both captains hope that is a sign of things to come in the remaining two matches. "He was also under tremendous pressure but we know he can be really dangerous at No. 7," Misbah said. "He has really good confidence and he will be good for us in the next matches."

De Villiers said it was "good to see Afridi back" but joked that he wouldn't like him to keep being back as the series heads into its decisive week.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent