A Shahid Afridi-inspired Pakistan took a 2-1 series lead in festive Faisalabad, restricting South Africa to 197 and getting home by six wickets in front of a partisan holiday crowd. A much-improved fielding and bowling unit dominated on a pitch that wasn't quite the batting deck it appeared when Graeme Smith decided to bat, and Mohammad Yousuf's exceptionally watchful presence while chasing a moderate total helped seal the deal in the 49th over.
Afridi, who earlier took an excellent catch to go with three wickets in two tight spells, didn't quite play the innings of the match but he did get Pakistan's chase off to a rousing start, thumping 32 from 18 deliveries. Dropped by Jacques Kallis at second slip after hitting ten in two balls, Afridi blazed away with boundaries drilled through cover and nudged off the pads, before blasting a second six down the ground off Shaun Pollock. Pollock had the last word as Smith flung himself to his right and intercepted a biff at mid-off to get Afridi before he inflicted further damage.
Yasir Hameed, in the side for Imran Nazir, made little effort to force the pace before hitting Makhaya Ntini to Kallis in the covers for 18 from 46 balls. Younis Khan was cut short before he could take off, flicking Albie Morkel to a diving Johan Botha at midwicket for 10.
Morkel succeeded in bringing the run-rate down - his first two overs were maidens - with his yorkers and cutters but with few runs to defend South Africa remained under the gun. Where their batsmen couldn't quite cope with the sluggish pitch, Yousuf forged two partnerships, 79 for the fourth with Shoaib Malik and 55 for the fifth with Misbah-ul-Haq. From the time he came in at 58 for 2, Yousuf just dropped anchor. He didn't hit his solo boundary until his 55th delivery and worked hard to find the gaps, not once playing an aggressive shot. But his unflappable presence during an unbeaten 58 off 113 balls, his third fifty-plus score in a row, was invaluable.
A tad more aggressive than Yousuf, Malik relied on the dab and flick for the most of his 42, but took one customary six off Botha. The mandatory change of the ball after 34 overs brought Malik's wicket, as Morkel induced an edge, but AB de Villiers dropped a tough catch at point off Misbah's blade the next ball. Misbah made the most, finishing with 29 from 32 balls.
The toss may not have gone Pakistan's way but they stifled South Africa, who struggled for momentum all innings, from the time they were two down early to when the slog overs started with their score 149 for 4. Umar Gul was accurate and frugal in his seven-over spell with the new ball, getting a circumspect Herschelle Gibbs to nick to the 'keeper.
Taking a cue from Kallis' tepid footwork, Malik brought on Afridi in the 15th over, inside the second Powerplay, and the move proved inspirational. Second ball, Kallis leant into an uppish drive and was well held by a diving Misbah in the covers. He then plucked a one-handed catch inches off the grass to get rid of de Villiers and while he continued to stifle the scoring with his bag of googlies, flippers and sliders, that fielding effort was what Pakistan really needed.
From here no batsman was really able to counterattack. Smith nudged his way to a chancy 48, dropped twice by the butter-fingered Kamran Akmal, but was run out when Justin Kemp called for a non-existent single into the covers. Kemp started slowly and crawled to 42 from 74 balls before dancing down to Afridi and missing the line. Afridi completed a fine effort - displaying a new-found maturity with the ball developed during the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa - by catching Pollock off his own bowling. Mark Boucher's first serious attempt at a boundary resulted in a miscue to extra cover in the 45th over and Gul and Iftikhar Anjum mopped up the tail.
A few issues remain to be resolved for Pakistan, but another professional display in Multan will go far in shaking off the listlessness during the recent past.