South Africa duly avoided a series whitewash against Pakistan by winning the final ODI in Centurion by four wickets, but it was hardly a commanding victory; more nervous intern than presidential. By KEN BORLAND.
Considering they were chasing just 180 and, with half an eye on the Indian team who arrive today [Monday], even captain AB de Villiers admitted it was not an impressive triumph.
“We still didn’t chase as well as we wanted to, we still lost too many wickets. We’re not taking enough care over building partnerships,” De Villiers told the press after the win.
Most worryingly, given the strengths of the Indian team, it was the Pakistan spinners who yet again had the South African batsmen under pressure.
A brisk, solid start against the seamers by Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock soon gave way to anxious attempts to break the ever-tightening grip of the slow bowlers as Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman weaved their magic.
The South African batsmen once again struggled against Ajmal as he took two for 34 in 10 overs and he confirmed that Pakistan felt they were just a wicket or two away from snatching victory despite the under-performance of their own batsmen.
De Villiers, a candidate for the best in the world, was the one batsman with the skill to not only survive against the canny off-spinner, but also to manipulate him around the field, scoring at a run-a-ball against him.
But what has really dented South Africa’s recent run-chases has been their batsmen’s tendency to get stuck against the spinners and, unable to push the ball around for singles, they get out playing the big shot.
They can ill-afford to play like that against India, who will bring Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina to these shores, and they will no doubt be defending bigger scores thanks to probably the most powerful batting line-up in world cricket at the moment.
Amla was the major aide to De Villiers and South Africa’s cause with his 41, but he once again found a soft way to get out when he and JP Duminy had an awful misunderstanding over a run to backward point and the opening batsman was run out just when he needed to be focusing on batting through the innings.
Henry Davids (7) and Duminy (16) both fell cheaply to spin – Ajmal and Rehman the respective bowlers – and at 124 for five after David Miller (24) had edged one ball too many and been caught behind off Sohail Tanvir, De Villiers admitted that he was worried.
“You expect spinners to slow the game down and reduce the run-rate, it’s a world-wide phenomenon. Especially against someone like Ajmal, one of the world’s best. But it’s about absorbing pressure and then raising the run-rate. We didn’t do that very well and I was worried because we were losing wickets regularly,” the captain said.
But De Villiers and Ryan McLaren, who bowled superbly and then scored an important 17 to once again prove his worth as an all-rounder, added a vital 40 off 55 balls for the sixth wicket and South Africa were almost home.
“I did what was required of me, I had to absorb pressure and be a lot more patient in terms of scoring boundaries,” De Villiers said of his 48 not out off 63 balls, with just three fours, a stark contrast to his blazing 74 off just 45 deliveries in the second ODI in Port Elizabeth.
McLaren, with two for 28, and Vernon Philander, with three for 26 and an outstanding second spell of 5-3-3-2, were the best South African bowlers as the home side employed the perfect tactics on a pitch that provided plenty of bounce, much of it two-paced.
Pakistan captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, blamed the failure of his batsmen to properly assess the conditions for the defeat and there was little doubt that South Africa would have been in trouble had they been chasing much more than 200.
“We were 50-60 runs short on a pitch with uneven pace and bounce, 220-230 would have been really good. But we kept on losing wickets and didn’t assess the situation properly.
“It was good bowling, they really utilised the conditions well, but we need to assess better what is a good total. Our shot-selection cost us,” Misbah said.
Not for the first time, it was only the heroics of Misbah that lifted Pakistan to a competitive total of 179, the stalwart captain batting through to the end of the innings as he finished with 79 not out.
But it’s obvious that South Africa are going to have to bat much better if they are to avoid also losing the series against India.
“It will be a good contest, India are in good form and they have quality batsmen who are in really good form. I think South Africa’s batting, like ours, is a bit of a concern. They need to settle but there are so many batsmen out of form and lacking confidence,” Misbah said.
“Pakistan have a world-class bowling unit and we can’t be any better prepared to play India after facing Ajmal, Afridi and Hafeez for I don’t know how long now. And there’s no reason not to be confident in our bowling attack, they’ve shown they can adapt really well as a unit and they did it again today.
“India’s biggest strength is their ability to score boundaries and they score at a quicker rate than other teams. We’re going to have to look to attack with the new ball and take wickets,” De Villiers said.
The year of the Pakistanis has finally come to an end, but at least one man is happy to have played them so much this year – Ryan McLaren. He claimed his 26th wicket against them in 2013, breaking the great Shane Warne’s record for the most wickets against a single opponent in a calendar year.
The challenge of the world champion Indians will be that much greater. DM
Photo: South Africa’s batsman JP Duminy plays a shot from Pakistan’s Bilawal Bhatti during the One-Day International (ODI) at Centurion. (REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)
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