Dippenaar heroics not enough
Boeta Dippenaar did his best, fighting off heat and humidity, testing spells from Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami, the wiles of Mushtaq Ahmed and Shoaib Malik, and hundreds of insects swarming under the lights of the Gaddafi stadium, but in the end
South Africa 269 for 6 (Dippenaar 110*, Smith 71, Akhtar 4-49) lost by eight runs to Pakistan 277 for 6 (Malik 82*, Youhana 68, Hameed 56)
Boeta Dippenaar did his best, fighting off heat and humidity, testing spells from Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami, the wiles of Mushtaq Ahmed and Shoaib Malik, and hundreds of insects swarming under the lights of the Gaddafi stadium, but in the end Pakistan's total of 277 proved to be just out of the reach of the South Africans. A nerveless final over from Mohammad Sami left them nine runs short of their target, as top-flight cricket returned to Pakistan for the first time since May 2002.
Pakistan's innings was no less riveting, especially the last ten overs. South Africa had kept them under control for most part, but then a spectacular innings by Shoaib Malik, who made 82 off 41 balls and hit five sixes in the last two overs alone, undid all the good work done by South Africa in the first 40 overs of the innings, and took Pakistan to 276 for 6.
After Malik's late charge, Pakistan would have fancied their chances under lights with a full-strength bowling attack, but it turned out to be not so easy after all. Akhtar and Sami beat the bat often in searching first spells, and the first seven overs of the innings yielded just 22. But Smith and Dippenaar, opening the innings in place of the injured Herschelle Gibbs, hung on grimly in difficult conditions, and scrapped it out till the runs began to come a little more easily. Once the opening bowlers were off, the two batsmen took every opportunity to attack the second string. The first 15 overs went for 79, as the two batsmen continued to keep abreast of the asking rate while keeping their wickets intact.
But with Smith struggling with cramp, and calling for a runner, it became evident that he would go after the bowling before fatigue overwhelmed him totally, and Inzamam saw his chance and brought Akhtar back for a second spell. Akhtar immediately removed Smith, chipping a catch tamely to mid-on, and then, steaming in at full throttle at the new batsman Jacques Kallis, beat him for pace with a short ball and got him to chop it down onto his stumps (140 for 2).
In hindsight, South Africa would consider that they let the game slip away in a little period of play at this juncture of the game. Neil McKenzie came out to join Dippenaar, and with the asking-rate climbing to well over six an over, Inzamam removed Shoaib from the attack and asked the batsmen to force the pace against the spin of Mushtaq and Malik. McKenzie was entirely clueless against the wiles of Mushtaq, and the two batsmen scratched around for several overs. As the overs slipped by, but no increase in the run-rate could be effected, both batsmen acquired an increasingly frantic air.
Twice McKenzie skied the ball into the offside in trying to hit down the ground, and both times he was dropped, first by Abdul Razzaq and then by Inzamam. Runs came in fits and starts, although South Africa would have begun to hope again when 16 came off the 43rd over of the innings, bowled by Mushtaq.
But with South Africa needing 37 from the last four overs, Akhtar returned again for a third and final spell, and dismissed a tired McKenzie with a clever slower ball (241 for 3). Mark Boucher came out to replace McKenzie, and his wild swipe at Akhtar off his very first ball told observers that this was a contest that could have only one conclusion. Three balls later, Akhtar knocked out his leg-stump with an inswinging yorker. And in the next over, Shaun Pollock hit the ball he received to straight to Inzamam at cover and departed for a first-ball duck.
All this while, Dippenaar had kept one end up, and with the match having almost slipped away, he lofted Akhtar for four in the penultimate over to bring up his hundred, and then played an astonishing stroke to bring South Africa back into contention, an effortless flicked six off the same bowler that brought the target down to 14 off seven balls. But that was the closest that South Africa came to scenting victory.
Pakistan owed their victory, though, to Malik as much as to Akhtar. Malik came in with Pakistan 167 for 4 in the 39th over, about thirty runs short of what they would have liked to be at that stage after two wasteful run-outs. A natural hitter of the ball, he played with great flair from the very beginning, keeping pace with Inzamam-ul-Haq in a partnership of 74 for the fifth wicket. None of the South African bowlers bowled at a pace that could trouble him, and as he grew in confidence he proceeded to get down on one knee to the bowlers, get his left leg out of the way, and mow the bowling over mid-wicket and mid-on.
The last two overs, bowled by Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis respectively, were carted for 42 runs. Even in an age in which a number of batsmen excel in this kind of late-innings hitting, Malik's strokemaking, his exceptional eye, and immense power and co-ordination all stood out.
Malik's half-century was the third made by a Pakistani batsman on the day, and undoubtedly the most crucial. Earlier, Yasir Hameed and Yousuf Youhana played accomplished innings, but both were out just when they would have been looking to up the scoring-rate.
Hameed started confidently, helped by some loose bowling from Makhaya Ntini, and looked as assured as he had against the Bangladeshis. He lost his opening partner Mohammad Hafeez in the fifth over - Hafeez struggled to get Pollock away and after 15 dot-balls he worked him straight to square-leg - but batted sensibly in the company of Youhana, working the ball away for singles and picking up the odd boundary with drives through the off side or his trademark flick over midwicket.
The eventual manner of his dismissal would have surprised no one who saw Hameed and Youhana bat together in the one-day internationals against Bangladesh. Hameed punched the left-arm spinner Peterson towards long-off and set off for a run, but Graeme Smith made good ground at cover to cut the ball off, and Hameed was left stranded halfway down the wicket by Youhana, who let his attention be diverted by the fielder. Youhana was run out in a similar mix-up with Hameed in the first one-day international against Bangladesh when one short of a half-century, and now he returned the compliment and sent Hameed on his way for 56 (100 for 2).
Younis Khan too ran himself out after playing himself in, and finally Youhana himself failed to carry a good start through to the end, nicking a ball from Andrew Hall and departing for 68 (167 for 4). But as it turned out, he needn't have worried, for Malik was more than up to the task of carrying Pakistan through to a sizeable total. South Africa's bowling and fielding was disciplined for the best part of the innings, but Smith would have left the field conscious of the lack of penetration in the bowling, and especially the thinness of his spin bowling resources.
Peterson's eight overs of left-arm spin were no more than adequate, and with Makhaya Ntini having an off-day, too much responsibility was thrust on the shoulders of Kallis, Andrew Hall and Alan Dawson. In the end, not even Pollock could escape the force of the flashing blade of Malik, as he played one of the very best late-order innings ever seen in one-day international cricket.