The South African side might be second-string, but there was nothing second-rate about the cricket on show at Gaddafi Stadium on Thursday. In a pulsating encounter that took until the 240th ball of the match to finally reveal the winner, South Africa competed with Pakistan, and, for large chunks of the game, were the better side, only falling short due to two stunning individual performances by Mohammad Rizwan and Usman Qadir. It is bound to encourage the visitors that they may have more strength in depth than they have been given credit for, and they enter the second match with the series feeling very much alive.
Pakistan will have concerns despite the narrow win. It was, in truth, a fairly indifferent performance from the hosts, particularly for the batsmen and the fast bowlers. Rizwan side, no one exceeded 21 with the bat, while Shaheen Afridi, Haris Rauf and Faheem Ashraf combined to leak 118 runs in 11 overs. That isn't a template to winning T20I games, and Babar Azam's side will be well aware they will require a more rounded performances if they are to wrap up the series at the earliest opportunity.
South Africa will rue, once more, their failure to capitalise on important moments, as was the case in the Tests series. Having kept Pakistan on a leash for large periods and picked up wickets regularly, the visitors were unable to make the pressure tell on Rizwan, who rose up to the responsibility of being (virtually) last-man standing with flying colours. Junior Dala and Lutho Sipamla consistently missed their lines and leaked a costly 49 off 5 overs. With the bat, Janneman Malan played a sumptuous knock, but unlike Rizwan, could not convert his 29-ball 44 into a match-winning score, while Reeza Hendricks struggled to convert an anchoring half-century into an explosive innings once the asking rate changed the game's dynamic.
South Africa have never lost a T20I series in Asia, and need to win tomorrow to keep that record. They will have decisions to make in the bowling department, while hoping senior players like David Miller and Heinrich Klaasen come to the party in a way they did not on Thursday night. Pakistan, meanwhile, have more recognized options like Hasan Ali or Mohammad Hasnain to call up on for some of the quicks who had a torrid time in the first game. With the T20 World Cup less than a year away, neither side will mind getting a chance to provide experience to players who may be needed in India in October.
Pakistan WWLLW (last five completed matches, most recent first) South Africa LLLLL
In the spotlight
Khushdil Shah was called up to the Pakistan side based off his momentous National T20 Cup performances late last year, but so far, the left-handed power hitter has done little to justify his selection. One-hundred and fifteen runs in eight innings at a strike rate of 113 is very much not what was advertised when Pakistan decided to take a punt on him, and for most of those games, he has never really looked like getting into the zone that makes him arguably the most destructive striker on the domestic circuit. On Thursday, he fell for a run-a-ball 12 after one big hit, struggling to adjust to changes in pace deployed against him. T20I cricket is a step up from the domestic circuit Khushdil has become a bit of a legend on, but should his struggles here continue, he might earn a one-way ticket back to that level.
In four tightly-knit overs, Tabraiz Shamsi demonstrated what a devastating blow his absence was to South Africa's chances in the Test series. The Lahore surface was conducive to the spinners, and if Qadir got the headlines for four spellbinding overs, Shamsi wasn't far behind either. He landed the ball in the right areas frequently enough to keep the batsmen wary, conceding just two boundaries in four overs that cost just 20. Hussain Talat's dismissal, while controversial, came about simply due to Shamsi's mastery in flight, drawing his man forward to give Klassen the opportunity to catch him out of his crease. Pakistan will expect him to be just as threatening tomorrow.
Pakistan might be tempted to bring in Asif Ali after the middle order misfired, while Hasnain or Hasan could get a go, possibly for Afridi, who is due a rest.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt) 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk) 3 Haider Ali 4 Khushdil Shah 5 Asif Ali/Hussain Talat 6 Faheem Ashraf 7 Iftikhar Ahmed 8. Mohammad Nawaz 9 Hasan Ali/Shaheen Afridi 10 Haris Rauf 11 Usman Qadir
Dala and Jacques Snyman had difficult games, but South Africa turned in a stable enough performance not to require a massive overhaul.
South Africa (probable): 1 Janneman Malan 2 Reeza Hendricks 3 Jon-Jon Smuts/Jacques Snyman 4 David Miller 5 Heinrich Klaasen (capt &wk)) 6 Andile Phehlukwayo 7 Dwaine Pretorius 8 Bjorn Fortuin 9 Lutho Sipamla 10 Tabraiz Shamsi 11 Glenton Stuurman
Pitch and conditions
The wicket should once again take spin, but there was a sense there were more runs in it than the first T20I produced. A high-scoring game would not be much of a surprise.
Stats and trivia
Rizwan's century in the first T20I made him just the second wicketkeeper-batsman to score international hundreds in all three formats. The other is former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum.
Babar Azam's duck was just the second time the Pakistan captain has failed to score in a T20I. The first time it happened came against Bangladesh last year, also at the Gaddafi Stadium.
South Africa have now lost five consecutive T20Is, the first time this has ever happened.