Port Elizabeth – The Proteas certainly have a way of vindicating the phrase “cricket is a funny old game”. Only on Wednesday night at St George’s Park, there was nothing funny in the way AB de Villiers’s team botched their seventh successive run-chase to hand Pakistan a thrilling maiden ODI series victory over the Proteas.
In his final act as South Africa’s head coach, Gary Kirsten left the team with a message that “At some point, you need to cross the line because people will continue looking at you and saying you can’t do it. It will require some really tough individuals to overcome it”.
Those words will reverberate around the Proteas dressing room and in the minds of the players more than ever now, especially with the ones who were involved at the end in last night’s tense affair.
South Africa had planned their run-chase perfectly after Man of the Match Ahmed Shehzad’s third one-day international century had set the hosts a stiff target in a game that was reduced to 45 overs.
Hashim Amla was the cornerstone of the reply, playing his role of batting through the innings almost to perfection, with AB de Villiers providing the impetus in the middle. In fact, De Villiers’s 74 off just 45 balls (8×4, 2×6) deserved to be a match-winning knock.
He was in complete control of the Pakistan bowling, improvising at will, and finding the boundary just when South Africa needed to lift the run-rate. De Villiers and Amla shared a 110-run partnership for the fourth wicket, but it was the captain’s demise that brought Pakistan back into the game.
The visitors are a side that only need to smell blood before they circle and devour their prey, and that is exactly what they did as South Africa’s middle-order failed to handle the increasing pressure.
It all still seemed on track, but unravelled spectacularly in the penultimate over delivered by Saeed Ajmal. The wily off-spinner only conceded two runs, and importantly, had Amla caught on the square-leg boundary two runs shy of a deserved century.
This left JP Duminy and new batsman David Miller with nine required for victory off the final over to be bowled by Junaid Khan, but like the Pakistanis have shown in both the T20 series and previous one-day game at Newlands, they can hit the yorker with unerring accuracy at the death.
Khan did just that, and even utilised the short ball to get Duminy caught on the fence with the second ball of the over, before holding his nerve by just conceding four leg byes off the final ball when Miller had to hit a six to win the game for South Africa.
It was not to be for the Proteas, and all that remained was to lament another missed opportunity. Dale Steyn was the next batsman in, and the ghostly expression on his face after the defeat was light years away from the celebratory scenes he had experienced earlier in the day when he claimed his career-best ODI figures of 6/39.
“That’s the game of cricket I guess,” a visibly disappointed De Villiers said after the defeat. “I had the game in my hands with Hash out there with me. I’ve finished a lot of games like that before and I was on a bit of a roll there. I should have caught my breath a little bit and looked at the situation again. Any game that we lose is disappointing. We are here to win. We lost the series now and that’s even worse. We lost momentum. We had the game in the pocket. When you have the game done and dusted, don’t give the game to the opposition.”
Plays of the day:
* Shabbash, Shabbash (Well done, well done)
Centuries by Pakistani openers against South Africa are as rare as day games in the middle of the week. But lightning did strike twice at St George’s Park yesterday, and Ahmed Shehzad’s delight at achieving this feat was justified.
The little man was in jubilant mood upon reaching three figures, and jumped as high as he could with an air-punch for good measure.
* Shoulder before wicket
Anwar Ali was playing and missing so much against Dale Steyn that he thought the best way to get to the other end was by stealing a bye.
Proteas wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock was alert to this though, and hurled the ball to the non-striker’s end. Ali, realising he was not going to make his ground, changed his running path to stop and throw which now hit his left shoulder. Under the new rules that is out, and the umpire agreed, sending Ali on his way.
* Miller time (not)
David Miller is being touted as South Africa’s big “finisher” but the powerful left-hander has been left short in two of the last three games he played. It would be unfair to blame the young KwaZulu-Natalian for the defeat, but he will have get South Africa over the line at some stage if he is to fill the role done so superbly for many years by his Dolphins coach Lance Klusener previously.
* Call the plumber
I have heard of singing in the rain, but writing in the rain is a different matter altogether. The EP Cricket Union are currently in the midst of a financial crisis, and unfortunately it is starting to show at South Africa’s oldest Test venue. When journalists walked into the media centre today, it was not only play in the middle that was delayed due to rain.
The ceiling had collapsed due to the heavy rains and water was flowing freely on to the desks below before maintenance workers placed big red buckets to catch the water.