On a pink day a white ball was battered black and blue. Breast cancer is not an obvious charity for South African cricket to champion when the country faces greater challenges from other diseases, HIV/Aids for example, but the pinkness applied a very Australian sheen to a performance worthy of the irrepressible force in world cricket. South Africa, namely AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla, smoked Pakistan's resurgence in this series with a record-breaking partnership of breathtaking execution.
Pakistan were never serious challengers after that but Shahid Afridi's batting beat an ancient rhythm, and stole the day if not the result. Reaching the second tier at the Wanderers seems miracle enough. Clearing the stadium? No chance. Enter Afridi, who bounced a free hit off the roof of the stand on its meteoric journey to the golf course beyond.
Afridi promised he would return revitalised for this series - and he has, at least with his batting. It has been a surprise and a treat. Where his bowling stands - his primary reason for selection - has been hard to determine on these unhelpful wickets. But he typifies the problems at the heart of Pakistan's selection darkness: batsmen struggling to bat and bowlers struggling to bowl.
South Africa produced two excellent performances in this one-day series but their advantage has been kindly assisted by their visitors. The list of questions for Messrs Whatmore and Ul-Haq is a long one, from Mohammad Irfan's omission from the first match to the persistence with Shoaib Malik, but nothing perplexes more than the batting.
I struggle to understand Pakistan's strategy? Perhaps Misbah or Dav could explain it to us? By the time of the next World Cup, who will carry Pakistan's batting? Misbah will be in his 40th year, surely a tournament too far? Shoaib Malik is Pakistan's first specialist fielder; his batting would be generously described as ordinary. Mohammad Hafeez, a man whose admirable temperament outstrips his technique, will be an unreliable opener in New Zealand and Australia--his record outside Asia is clear on that. Younis Khan, may still have air in his lungs and steel in his wrists, but has lost sight of the anchoring role he needs to adopt in Pakistan's middle order. Afridi is, well, Afridi: here today and probably tomorrow, mercurial, maddening, sporadically magnificent.
Nasir Jamshed aside, and he has found this a difficult series, Pakistan's batting is time expired, a sell by date in the last decade. No young players are being considered in this touring squad. The old guard are clogging up the production line. Pakistan must at least find a way of including Asad Shafiq and Umar Akmal in the team--surely? One place is easy, that of Shoaib Malik. The other, although difficult, must be found.
Afridi was a youthful entrant to international cricket, a perfect example of Pakistan cricket's readiness to give youth its head, even though at times selection seemed premature. The failing of administrators, selectors, coaches, and captains has been developing talented debutants into world-class performers - not finding them in the first place.
The pendulum of stability has swung too far; the current inertia in selection has created a sense of stagnation. Nobody doubts the contribution of the current batsmen to Pakistan cricket, especially in a time of dreadful crisis, but we need to look ahead to the next generation. The plan may well be to rebuild after this year's Champions Trophy but with every innings a sense grows that too many of the current batsmen have nothing more to offer on Pakistan's journey to the next World Cup.