South Africa 192 for 6 (Du Plessis 78, Hendricks 74, Shinwari 3-31) bear Pakistan 186 for 9 (Malik 49, Shamsi 2-33)
Where Pakistan play with a stand-in captain and the bizarre arrangement of the PCB announcing captains will be appointed on a "series-by-series" basis, their South African counterpart - captain of all formats and all foreseeable series to come - demonstrated the benefits of having a rock in that position. Faf du Plessis thwacked 78 off 45 in a partnership with Reeza Hendricks that added a colossal 131 at almost eleven per over through the middle overs, helping South Africa post a ground record 192 in the first innings at Newlands. Hendricks played his own part in full measure, adding 74 off 41. Job done, Du Plessis came out to the press conference and announced that he would rest for the remaining two games of the series.
For a Pakistan side that had put South Africa in after winning the toss, this was just a few too many. There was no partnership to even remotely be considered a challenger to that Hendricks-du Plessis onslaught. All South Africa's bowlers needed to do was keep it straightforward, and watch Pakistan crumble under the pressure of a ballooning asking rate. They were more than up for it, and rewarded with a six-run victory, pulling ahead in the three-match T20I series.
This might just be the start of the year, but you could be sure the partnership between Hendricks and his captain will rank among the elite by the time 2019 is out. Du Plessis has come in enjoying steely runs in the Test series and solid ones in the ODIs, and here he showed he could do sizzling runs too. From the moment he spanked Shadab Khan - the unfortunate whipping boy among a number of contenders in the Pakistan line-up today - through the offside for four, the gloves were fully off. Eighty-nine runs were scored in the seven overs beginning with that one, Hendricks just as much a participant in the carnage.
15,13,12,14,15. Those were the respective fates of the bowlers tasked with sending down overs 11-15, Shadab, Hussain Talat, Usman Shinwari and Faheem Ashraf all unable to stem the flow of runs. The quicker bowlers were a shade predictable in their approach, both in terms of the pace and length they delivered at, allowing two settled batsman to take full advantage with almost consummate ease. Reeza Hendricks eyed Shinwari for the most severe punishment, a six over midwicket from around the wicket to Pakistan's fastest bowler indicative of the confidence flowing through his veins following a brilliant ODI series.
South Africa were so far ahead of par by the 15 over mark - 157 for 1 - they could afford a poor last five and still post a challenging total. Pakistan came back brilliantly with a Shinwari over that removed both du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen, conceding just one run. Ashraf nailed his yorkers in the dying overs as the runs began to dry up, and where the top order had once eyed 220, the lower order could only manage 192.
Pakistan began poorly, Fakhar Zaman edging to slip off just the third ball. The sort of innings they have come to take for granted from the ever-dependable Babar Azam did arrive, and for a period, he and 22-year old Hussain Talat built up a launchpad partnership. The trouble was Talat wasn't nearly as capable of keeping up with the required rate as Babar, and with the asking rate rising, someone had to take responsibility. 81 was added in 57 balls by the two, meaning around the halfway mark, Pakistan were just three short of South Africa's equivalent tally.
It was there that South Africa's innings had really taken off, but the same overs in the Pakistan innings saw their challenge fade. Talat went looking for successive big hits, but it was the run out of Babar that twisted the knife into Pakistan. David Miller, who found himself all over the field in the final ten overs, directed a brilliant hit at one stump to catch Babar out. It would be one of a staggering six dismissals he effected, with four catches to complement two run-outs. From there on, Pakistan's chase took on a manic, even unsophisticated air.
Make no mistake, they were in it till the final few balls, but with the class of Babar removed, it was Malik at one end and rudimentary slogs at the other. The hosts were far more effective with the ball in the middle overs; Andile Phehlukwayo was the pick. The pace was varied effectively and the batsmen were routinely out-thought as slogs and misses became the norm, mistimed hits carrying to the deep fielders the expected outcome. Ashraf struck a six and got out, ditto Hasan Ali, and with skipper Malik the anchor from the other end, a bizarre game Pakistan were supposedly out of went to the final over.
Here, Chris Morris, coming back into the side after an extended lay-off, showed the utility of his skillset. The yorkers were immaculate off the first two deliveries, forcing Malik to feel the pressure and hole out with three deliveries to spare. Shadab took it deeper still to make it ten off two, but in a game where South Africa always appeared to be just one step ahead, Morris made sure they came away with a six-run win to reflect that fact.