Pakistan’s spinners claimed 7 for 67 to dismiss South Africa for a paltry 183, but South Africa’s bowlers pulled off a stunning heist by winning the match by a single run, despite Pakistan seemingly assured of victory with just 18 runs required from the final nine overs and four wickets in hand.
Imran Tahir, the legspinner, claimed three of the next four wickets to fall, leaving Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Irfan, the last pair, with seven runs to score for victory or six for a tie. But having scraped together five, with a couple of leg-byes to help, Irfan was bowled by Morne Morkel with the third ball of the 47th over to complete a stunning, barely credible result.
Pakistan made hard work of a modest target throughout the run chase but always appeared to be in complete control until the final half a dozen overs, when it lost six wickets for the addition of just 17 runs after a solid foundation courtesy of a workmanlike 58 from 92 balls by Ahmed Shehzad, the opener, with bits and pieces from the rest of the top order.
The slide began when Lonwabo Tsotsobe, the left-arm seamer, dismissed Umar Amin and Sohail Tanvir off successive deliveries, both caught behind, with Tahir trapping Umar Akmal lbw for an aggressive 18 from 17 balls. At 174 for 7 however, it seemed no more than a late wobble.
Shahid Afridi had the chance to all but end the game when Tahir pitched short, but his frenetic heave to midwicket was toe-ended to the boundary fielder and suddenly the impossible seemed probable.
Wahab Riaz was pinned lbw by Tahir’s quicker ball and Irfan was no match for Morkel.
Earlier, Saeed Ajmal led the demolition of the South Africa’s batting with 4 for 30 from his ten overs, while Afridi relished his umpteenth comeback to the ODI team with figures of 3 for 37 which might have been even tidier but for a couple of long-hop overs towards the end of the innings.
South Africa seemed dead and buried twice at a double nadir of 63 for 5 and 129 for 8, the first avoided thanks to David Miller’s bold 37 and the second with a highly unlikely ninth-wicket stand of 52 between Wayne Parnell (56) and Tsotsobe (16*), both of whom contributed career best scores. But it never seemed remotely likely to challenge Pakistan.
Colin Ingram’s nightmare as an opener continued with a third consecutive duck when Irfan found the outside edge with the second ball of the match, but consolidation appeared on the cards when Graeme Smith and JP Duminy added 38 for the second wicket against the impressive duo of Irfan and Tanvir.
There was no reason for the South Africans to panic when Duminy pulled a Tanvir bouncer straight to square leg but all it took to change the game completely, however, was a bowling change.
Ajmal was convinced he had Smith caught behind on 19 and he was joined by a ferociously gesticulating Umar Akmal in demanding that Pakistan use their review. In the circumstances, Misbah-ul-Haq, the captain, could hardly refuse. Steve Davis, the third umpire, could find no evidence to overturn Richard Illingworth’s decision and the home side was seething – for three balls.
Smith obliged by dragging his back foot well outside the crease leaving Akmal and Ajmal with rapid, and sweet retribution. Thereafter it was a sorry tale for South Africa as the spinners cleaned up.
A desperate Faf du Plessis wasted his team’s review on an lbw which was hitting halfway up leg stump and the next three batsmen were all caught and bowled on a pitch more ‘grippy’ and less pacey that they are accustomed to, but very far from impossible.
Parnell showed what was possible with patience and a good eye, but by then it seemed far too late.
For Pakistan, Nasir Jamshed (0) was the first of the three top-order batsmen to make a mess of short deliveries, but at least Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez (28 from 39) had made a contribution first. Misbah (31) sliced Parnell to backward point and Umar Amin (20) edged behind with victory tantalisingly close. Umar Akmal lofted the otherwise miserly Morne Morkel over long-on for six to, yet again, make victory seem a formality before falling lbw to Tahir’s ‘straight on’ ball.
It was all so breathless at the end. It simply couldn’t have happened, surely. Only on Thursday morning will either team really be able to grasp what occurred.