x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Proteas win in a canter

The result of the game was never in doubt after Pakistan lost four of their middle-order batsmen in a cluster of 12 runs from a healthy position of 140 for none.

ABU DHABI // The more they change, the more they stay the same. Barack Obama's mantra is certainly not working for the Pakistan cricket team.

After two disappointing defeats in the Twenty20 matches, the hosts decided to bench three of their top-order batsmen yesterday and the ploy seemed to be working for a big part of the innings, until the almost inevitable implosion.

From a healthy 140 for one, following their highest second-wicket partnership (114 runs) of this year, Pakistan could get no more than 203 on the board. And for the third consecutive game, South Africa cantered to a win, by eight wickets this time, to take a 1-0 lead in the five-match one-day international series.

Graeme Smith retired in the fifth over of the run-chase with bruised fingers after getting hit by a Shoaib Akhtar bouncer, but Jacques Kallis (66), who also retired with a bout of cramps, and AB de Villiers (51) ensured the Proteas faced no difficulties in overhauling the target.

The result of the game was never in doubt after Pakistan lost four of their middle-order batsmen in a cluster of 12 runs. It was a familiar sight, with every batsmen seeming desperate to plead insanity in front of close to 12,000 fans.

Pakistan's batting woes were obvious in the series-opening two Twenty20s, with scores of 119 and 120 for nine. Stung by those disappointing performances, the prodigiously talented but prodigal Umar Akmal was benched for the game. Shahzaib Hasan and Imran Farhat met a similar fate, making way for the return of Younus Khan, Asad Shafiq and Misbah-ul-Haq.

With a brittle batting line-up, the odds of Pakistan dominating a South Africa attack are always going to be long. Still, they should have done better after the 114-run partnership between Mohammed Hafeez (68) and Younus (54).

Younus, returning to the side after getting his "indefinite" suspension reversed, looked easily the most comfortable among Pakistan's batsmen. Playing his first match on the international stage since the acrimonious tour of Australia which ended in January, the 32-year-old showed little sign of rust. His arrival at the crease certainly gave a lift to Hafeez's confidence as well. Scratchy at the start, he opened up with two handsome boundaries off consecutive Morne Morkel deliveries. Thereafter, he started finding the sweet spot more often but an injudicious cut went straight to Charl Langeveldt at short third-man.

Younus departed playing across the line and then came the familiar Pakistan procession. From 140 for one they slumped to 203 all out in 49 overs. The four wickets that fell for only 12 runs included Misbah, Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq. Afridi's dismissal was particularly disappointing. He received a standing ovation, but was gone before his fans had sat back down. The captain lofted his second ball, in the manner of a dazed, suicidal man, straight to mid-off. And that was the end of the night's entertainment for most Pakistan fans; what followed was purely academic.

Man-of-the-match Lonwabo Tsotsobe was the chief tormenter of the Pakistanis, grabbing career-best figures of four for 27.

Afridi was disappointed by his side's capitulation. "I'm really happy to see Younus Khan back," he said. "He and Hafeez did well with that partnership, but later on we did not do well. The rest of the guys didn't stick to the plans.

"A few of the guys are going through a tough time at the moment, but hopefully we will bounce back in the coming games.

"I am frustrated about the batting, which is struggling, but we will try to do some extra practice and try to improve."

Afridi felt there was little his bowlers could do after the problems created by the batting. "The bowling and fielding are perfect," he said. "We need to bat with better plans and last 50 overs."