Abu Dhabi: Dale steyn had just two overs left. Between him and AB de Villiers they decided to station a third man for Umar Akmal. On cue, the Pakistan gloveman tried to heave a full delivery over midwicket but got a leading edge to where South Africa had placed their tallest man. Morne Morkel judged the catch perfectly, avoiding the boundary and grabbing the ball. For Pakistan, that should have been a minor setback.
Three balls later, Misbah-ul-Haq tried to take Steyn on. He aimed where Akmal had been trying to go but he did not strike the ball cleanly. AB de Villiers came in from the boundary to take the catch. And two balls after that, Saeed Ajmal attempted a pull to a good length ball, missed and saw his stumps shattered.
In the space of an over, Dale Steyn had racked up his best bowling figures in ODI cricket. Pakistan had gone from 228 for 5 to 231 for 8 and the series was settled.
Six balls was all it took to undo the hard graft by Pakistn’s opening pair, who put on their second successive stand of fifty-plus, and the effort of the debutant Sohaib Maqsood, who put his seniors to shame with an innings underlined by confidence and crafted with good technique. Six balls was all it took to ensure Pakistan run of two years and nine months without a successful chase of over 250 extended another day. And six balls was all it took to ensure South Africa’s record of never having been defeated by Pakistan in a bilateral series intact.
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South Africa 266 for 5 (de Kock 112, Junaid 2-42) v Pakistan
Quinton de Kock fulfilled the promise thrust upon him in his ninth ODI, with a century that defied Pakistan’s best efforts to unsettle him. He was dropped on 2, in a reminder to employ the patience that evaded him in the first few matches of his career, and should have been run out on 95 in his haste to bring up the milestone. But in between that, he played an array of aggressive cuts, lofted drives and rotated strike well to form the spine of the South Africa total.
Pakistan pulled the visitors back slightly with three wickets in four overs in the last quarter of the innings, but could not turnaround their initial lethargic showing as JP Duminy and Ryan McLaren added 52 in 6.2 overs. The seamers struggled to find their lines and the spinners failed to pose much danger, underlined by Saeed Ajmal going wicketless for the first time in 10 ODIs.
Hashim Amla asserted himself against Mohammad Irfan early on, clipping a full ball off the pads and unfurling an exquisite cover drive in successive overs. De Kock had only managed two singles while his senior partner appeared to be sailing along and he soon grew anxious to catch up. He flashed at a Sohail Tanvir delivery and got a thick edge but Mohammad Hafeez, who was at slip, could not hold on.
De Kock realised the need for safety first but Amla went the other way. He called for a sharp single after pushing the ball to Misbah-ul-Haq at mid-on and a direct hit would have seen him run-out.
With both South Africa openers having offered chances that were not taken, Pakistan appeared deflated and allowed the pair to up the tempo. Amla was fluent against Irfan which gave de Kock time to settle. The half-century stand came up at the end of the 11th over, with both meeting the introduction of spin with good footwork.
But Amla forgot to move his when Hafeez turned one less than he expected and was bowled as he tried to run the ball down to third man. Pakistan had an opening and felt they should have prised it further in the next over when Shahid Afridi struck Faf du Plessis on the pads with a slider. Afridi insisted on the review, before Misbah could have his say, but ball-tracking showed the ball clipping the outside of leg stump so the not out decision stood.
Du Plessis lasted long enough to see de Kock loft Hafeez over the infield, bring up his half-century and play an inside-out drive before he charged Irfan in an attempt to hit over cover but found only the fielder. De Kock was joined by AB de Villiers, who was probably the best person to usher him to three figures, as he encouraged quick singles and reminded de Kock repeatedly to “bat normally.”
For 31 deliveries, they could not find the boundary before de Kock dispatched a Junaid Khan short ball to third man. Then it was back to nudge and nurdle for another four overs during which de Kock entered the nineties. He ended the boundary drought by making room off Irfan and hitting him over mid-off.
De Villiers began to free up, too, with a spectacular whip through midwicket off Ajmal and a ramp shot off Irfan. De Kock, on seeing the fireworks, saved the biggest for himself. He got under an Irfan length ball and crashed it over mid-on to being up his maiden century off 127 balls.
His innings set South Africa up for a last ten-over blast but they lost de Villiers as soon as that period began, caught off a leading edge against Junaid. De Kock became Junaid’s second and when David Miller was out lbw to Hafeez, South Africa had been pegged back.
However, Duminy and McLaren took the total over 250 with three fours and two sixes in the last 10 overs. That number is important because Pakistan have not been able to chase down a total of over 250 since March 2011 and will need an improved performance if they are to change that this time.
South Africa 266 for 5 (de Kock 112, Junaid 2-42) beat Pakistan 238 (Misbah 65, Maqsood 56, Steyn 5-25) by 28 runs