George Linde's all-round heroics a sign of healthy competition in South Africa
Sisanda Magala bounces back well as depleted hosts put "cowboy cricket" behind them
Amidst the current panic about over rates and T20 matches extending beyond four hours, the second T20I between South Africa and Pakistan was over well within three. And yet, despite it's brevity, it's difficult to imagine George Linde will play another international match that provides as much gratification as this one did.
Not only did the South Africa allrounder, whose place in a full-strength T20I side is nowhere near guaranteed, do plenty to push his case for inclusion ahead of the T20 World Cup with a match-winning performance with both bat and ball, he also went on to win a couple of personal duels that will earn him a lot more respect than opposition sides perhaps accord him at present. Off the first ball of the contest, Mohammad Rizwan danced down the wicket to Linde, looking to launch him over the sighscreen. Linde had planned for that, and pulled his length back, with the in-form Pakistan batsman only succeeding in skying it to mid-off, giving South Africa the advantage right away.
After the match, Linde spoke of how South Africa had planned to use Rizwan's "arrogance" against him. "I was actually glad he came down the wicket first ball," he said. "We tried to play with his arrogance a little bit, not saying he's arrogant in a bad way, but we were trying to force a false shot out of him. That was our plan, maybe two balls we were going to try and keep mid-off up to see if he plays a false shot. Luckily he did, so that worked in our favour. Very glad to see the back of him given how much damage he's done against us of late."
It was a crucial blow, with Rizwan arguably the most in-form T20 wicketkeeper-batsman in the world at present. His golden duck ended a run of ten straight T20 scores in excess of 40, achieved at a strike rate of 144.07, and an average over 80. Much of that damage has been done against South Africa, with the four earlier T20Is against them this year producing scores of 104 not out, 51, 42 and 74 not out. And after Linde thwarted Rizwan's plans of attack first up, he opted to give Pakistan a taste of their own medicine with the bat.
Coming in just after South Africa wobbled ever so slightly, having lost two quick wickets with a brittle lower-middle order to follow, Linde thwacked Usman Qadir for a huge six over cow corner from just the second ball he faced. It was just an insouciant swing of the arms, but he had done to a Pakistan spinner what Rizwan had failed to do to him. He finished with a brisk 20 off 10, and was there alongside his captain Heinrich Klaasen to guide his side home.
"It wasn't really about making a point," Linde said. "I practice six-hitting a lot so I'm fairly okay with trying to hit my first or second ball for six. I don't have a problem with that, and the situation presented itself. We've got a game plan going towards the World Cup so we're trying to buy into that. If we can play that type of cricket now leading into the World Cup then we know how exactly to go about things when it does come."
He paid particular tribute to the death bowlers, pointing out that although the bowling in the final five overs had possibly lost South Africa the first T20I, this match had been a completely different story. "Looking back on the first game, we should have won it. I don't think it was that bad, but on the day we probably weren't good enough. Certain stages, especially the last five overs, we weren't good enough, but the bowlers showed up today. It was an unbelievable effort from them today."
The face of that comeback was Sisanda Magala, talked up with tremendous excitement by all familiar with the domestic circuit in South Africa. A fast bowler who regularly exceeds speeds of 145kph/90mph with the ball, he had endured a tough outing in the first game, missing his lines at crucial moments and leaking 35 runs in three overs. His first over here was even more disastrous, with Magala taking five balls to bowl a legitimate delivery, with three no-balls to start what ended up being a 12-ball over. It might have caused several inexperienced players to unravel, but Magala roared back, conceding just 13 in his next three overs, and knocking back Babar Azam's stumps at the death.
"It just showed his character," Linde said. "A lot of guys believe he's the best white-ball T20 bowler in the country. We weren't worried about that over because we knew what was coming next. I'm very happy for him, as I am for [Tabraiz] Shamsi and everyone else that bowled."
Klaasen, for his part, revealed Magala had insisted upon another over after that calamitous first. He went on to praise his side for their aggression without playing "cowboy" cricket, a balance he thought they had lacked on Saturday.
"The wicket is good; it was still a 180-190 wicket, Klaasen said. "The message was to be positive. If individuals wanted to take their man on, we were told they should go for it. We wanted to play aggressive cricket, not cowboy cricket. When we needed to hold back, we did and then we pushed on again. We could have taken the soft option and just continued to attack, even when the time required consolidation to appear aggressive but it wasn't the best option then, and we made the right choices."
South Africa are in an odd place at the moment. While the popular view currently remains this is a side in a crisis of some sort, few other nations could perhaps compete with Pakistan so effectively having had almost their entire first XI hollowed out either by dint of IPL involvement or injury. They might have given Pakistan a bloody nose, but the aim will be to also present the South Africa selectors with a T20 World Cup headache, too. South Africa's best T20 players are currently believed to be in India, but it turns out some of them might still be in Johannesburg after all.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000