x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Mohammed Hafeez the drum major for Pakistan

One renegade Pakistan supporter took a break from the perennial UAE love-in with Shahid Afridi to show appreciation for another, less-universally celebrated player at Sports City on Friday night.

Pakistan's Shahid Afridi, centre, is surrounded by his teammates after taking South African cricketer Faf du Plessis (unseen) out for lbw during the second day-night international against South Africa in Dubai Cricket Stadium in Dubai on November 1. Asif Hassan / AFP
Pakistan's Shahid Afridi, centre, is surrounded by his teammates after taking South African cricketer Faf du Plessis (unseen) out for lbw during the second day-night international against South Africa in Dubai Cricket Stadium in Dubai on November 1. Asif Hassan / AFP

DUBAI // One renegade Pakistan supporter took a break from the perennial UAE love-in with Shahid Afridi to show appreciation for another, less-universally celebrated player at Sports City on Friday night.

On an affectionately crafted placard, embossed with multicoloured type, the supporter had written: “King of cricket: Mohammed Hafeez.”

Which is not the most regular thing you will hear at a cricket match involving Pakistan.

Not lately, anyway. The king? If so, then mostly deposed.

And often in exile.

There was not one outstanding individual performer in this comfortable, series-levelling win for Pakistan over South Africa.

Ahmed Shahzad made another impressive half-century at the top of the order, his fifth in seven innings.

Mohammed Irfan took three wickets. Saeed Ajmal was characteristically bewitching with two. And Shahid Afridi was Shahid Afridi.

But it was Hafeez who was the heartbeat of the 66-run win at Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

It was him in a nutshell. He looked the business with the bat, making a flashy 26 before dragging one onto his stumps.

His undervalued bowling was precise, and he was in no way flattered by his figures of one for 25, with a maiden, from his 10 overs.

He held a smart catch at slip to get rid of JP Duminy – but he dropped one, too, at slip off the bowling of Ajmal. Typical Hafeez: two steps forward, one step back.

If his recent demotion from the Test side was a reminder he is neither the full-time captain-in-waiting anymore, nor even certain of his place, he did not betray any signs of insecurity here.

He bossed his captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, around over bowling changes. He burned a review when it was not even close.

But it all added up to a win, and Misbah was happy.

“We were defending a low total, but whenever it’s a score over 200 you have a chance and our spinners did a job for us,” Misbah said.

“The way Hafeez started, he always does well especially to the left-handers. It was a really good performance.”

Afridi won the man of the match award for his three wickets, as well as an important late cameo with the bat worth 26 from 20 balls, to the delight of the crowd.

“Playing in the UAE is like being at home as we always get support,” Afridi said.

From South Africa’s perspective, it was fitting that on the weekend of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a McLaren should prosper in the other sporting show in town. Given the relatively meagre pickings of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez in this year’s Formula One drivers’ championship, they might not be favoured for a podium finish at Yas Marina Circuit.

Similarly, Ryan McLaren is one of the less-heralded performers in the Proteas’ team, but he found a UAE track to his suiting here.

The all-rounder picked up four wickets with his brisk seamers, but more impressive than the quantity of wickets was the quality of the batsmen he dismissed.

Misbah, Hafeez and Umar Amin, the nucleus of Pakistan’s middle order, each fell to McLaren after getting starts.

The South Africans will have felt confident having to chase 210 to win, but their curious fallibility of their batsmen in one-day cricket resurfaced again.

“We just weren’t good enough tonight,” said AB de Villiers, the South Africa captain.

pradley@thenational.ae

Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE