The hosts will have to iron out their inconsistencies at the top if they are to level the series
The first ODI painted a broad enough picture of both sides’ strengths and weaknesses in a way whole series often fail to do. Across exactly 100 overs of two mid-table sides jostling for position in the World Cup Super League, South Africa’s inconsistency at the top was laid bare, as were Pakistan’s struggles with their death bowling and a relatively lightweight middle order.
Equally, the home side’s resilience lower down, as well as the purple patches Anrich Nortje and Rassie van der Dussen currently enjoy, took them within inches of an unlikely win, while the brilliance of Babar Azam and the assuredness of Imam-ul-Haq came in handy in a below-par chase of 274. Nothing that happened at SuperSport Park will convince anyone these teams will compete for the biggest prizes just yet, but the first ODI showed they’re still capable of offering up absorbing contests.
Pakistan have a chance of wrapping up the series at the earliest opportunity in Johannesburg, which, regardless of the state of South African cricket, would be a major feather in the touring party’s cap. Series in South Africa have historically been a struggle for Pakistan, and the inflation of ODI scores notwithstanding, Pakistan’s chase on Friday was the joint third-highest outside of Asia in their history. They took wickets up top, and just about killed the game off with one partnership. In many ways, it was a dominant performance, large parts of which they merely need to replicate to put themselves 2-0 up.
South Africa will draw positives not just from intangibles like the spirited fightback and a never-say-die attitude, but the knowledge of significant room for improvement. The game might have gone down to the last ball, but they might believe they lost it in the first 15 overs; the loss of four early wickets meant they were always swimming against the current. That they almost got to the shoreline suggests a less disastrous start up top would place much greater pressure on Pakistan, and as we all saw on Friday, Pakistan under pressure always look like they might have a collapse in them.
The hosts will play in a different kit to mark the annual pink ODI, which raises money for breast cancer awareness and treatment.
Pakistan WWWLW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa LWWWL
In the spotlight
Tabraiz Shamsi didn’t get any wickets, but the scorecard doesn’t quite tell the tale of his contribution to the late drama in Centurion. Even while Azam and Imam racked up the runs, Shamsi was a leash on the visitors’ otherwise incessant scoring, conceding just three boundaries; the fewest among his team-mates. His wrong’uns spun prodigiously and appeared to trouble most batsmen, and his consistency of line and variable turn gave off the impression any over he bowled could be eventful. It was telling that Temba Bavuma persisted with him at the other end while Nortje was picking off wickets at the other. In the T20I series in Pakistan, he coupled control with wicket-taking, and he doesn’t look too far away from doing that here, either.
For an opener with an average over 50, it’s odd Imam-ul-Haq‘s place in the Pakistan side is subjected to as much forensic criticism as it is. Once more, he appeared to deal with it with aplomb, serving as the perfect foil as Azam helped him take the game away from South Africa in the first half. While Fakhar Zaman continues to misfire at the other end, Imam offers a level of poise to a top order that historically possessed little, but that may well be the stick that’s used to beat him with in the long-term. His strike rate is, by modern standards, somewhat pedestrian, and if Pakistan were to need runs at a faster clip than they did in a middling chase on Friday, Imam might have to show a more dynamic side to his game. With the confidence he appears to possess in his abilities, you wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled that out of his locker.
South Africa will suffer absences once the IPL begins, but for now, they have their full squad at their disposal, and should field an unchanged side.
South Africa (probable): 1 Aiden Markram 2 Quinton de Kock 3 Temba Bavuma (capt) 4 Rassie van der Dussen 5 David Miller 6 Heinrich Klaasen (wk) 7 Andile Phehlukwayo 8 Kagiso Rabada 9 Anrich Nortje 10 Lungi Ngidi 11 Tabraiz Shamsi 11 Glenton Stuurman
Pakistan might want to shore up the middle order with another batsman, with Asif Ali’s place under increasing pressure. Haider Ali could be in line for the nod, with everyone below Babar subsequently dropping a slot down.
Pakistan: 1 Imam ul Haq 2 Fakhar Zaman 3 Babar Azam (capt) 4 Haider Ali 5 Mohammad Rizwan (wk) 6 Danish Aziz 7 Shadab Khan 8 Faheem Ashraf 9 Shaheen Afridi 8. Mohammad Hasnain 11 Haris Rauf
Pitch and conditions
This should be a high-scoring game, in line with The Wanderers’ reputation. Inclement weather is unlikely to make its presence felt.
Stats and trivia
- Friday’s ODI was the first time in 16 years that Pakistan won an ODI off the last ball. On that occasion, in 2005, Inzamam-ul-Haq got the winning runs off Sachin Tendulkar in Ahmedabad.
- Pakistan have just won two of the ten ODIs they have played at the Wanderers. However, it does include their most recent contest, an eight-wicket win over the hosts.
- Among players with at least five ODI innings, no one averages higher than Rassie van der Dussen’s 83.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000