A lot of attention coming into the fourth South Africa-Pakistan ODI in Durban was centred around the pitch and subcontinental-like conditions the venue often proffers. While both captains agreed that the track was a bit slow, South Africa's AB de Villiers said the conditions weren't that "difficult" to deal with, rather it was losing set batsmen at the wrong time that cost his team.
"The main thing was to adapt quickly and to assess the pitch conditions, it just took us a while and cost us a few wickets," de Villiers said after the match. "After about three or four overs that I faced, I got used to the pace of the deck and realised that it wasn't turning much. It only started to turn more after about 30-35 overs, because of which the leading edges were there. There wasn't a lot of turn and it was quite slow; once we got used to that, we rotated the strike and picked up a few boundaries to get the momentum on our side again."
De Villiers was left to salvage the South African innings with David Miller, who replaced the injured Faf du Plessis, after the top order was carved up by Pakistan's new-ball pair. Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan had the hosts gasping at 38 for 4 in 10 overs, before a 115-run stand between de Villiers and Miller put them back on track. However, both batsmen were dismissed within four overs on either side of the 35-over mark, denying South Africa an ideal finish.
While that proved costly for his side, de Villiers pointed out that they were dismissed by the "best bowler in the world", in Saeed Ajmal, so it was not "the end of the world". "It was very important to bat till the end. But it's part of the game, you're not going to bat 50 overs every game as an individual.
"My gameplan was to get to 45 overs, which I didn't, and I'm sure Dave too wanted to bat longer," he said. "I thought both of us batted really well, did a massive job for the team to get back into the game and to get a decent total. At one stage we were staring at a low total but we fought back well. Unfortunately I got out at a really bad time. It cost us 20 runs which would have been handy during the end of the bowling session there."
Pakistan's innings took a similar course, with a clutch of wickets going down at the start, only for captain Misbah-ul-Haq to resurrect the chase in the company of Imran Farhat. Importantly for Pakistan, Farhat stayed till the 48th over, bringing them to the very brink. Misbah had good words for him: "The ball wasn't coming at an even pace, there was a little bit of extra bounce in the second half, some balls were stopping a little bit, it wasn't easy to bat on that, but I think at the end Imran batted well. They bowled well, but we showed a little bit of character and we managed to win this game."
It was a game Pakistan had to win to keep the series alive, and their chances of doing that took a blow early on as Mohammad Hafeez was out for a duck in the second over, becoming the first batsman in international cricket to be dismissed obstructing the field under the new laws. While Misbah accepted that the decision ultimately lay with the umpires, he said Hafeez's reaction suggested he did not wilfully change course while running to get in the way of de Villiers' throw.
"He was just running in line, trying to shorten the length," Misbah said. "He wasn't looking behind when AB threw the ball, so he was suggesting it wasn't intentional because he didn't know where the ball was thrown [from]. But in the end, it was the umpire's call."