x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Thousands roar Pakistan to thrilling win

Close to 23,500 in Dubai see Pakistan reach their target of 275 with one ball and a wicket to spare to level the five-match series with South Africa.

Zulqarnain Haider, left, and Shoaib Akhtar celebrate their win over South Africa in Dubai last night.
Zulqarnain Haider, left, and Shoaib Akhtar celebrate their win over South Africa in Dubai last night.

DUBAI // Crawling through mile-long queues and braving a melee for tickets, then waiting patiently at the turnstiles and security checks, a record weekend crowd had filled the Dubai Cricket Stadium to the brim last night in anticipation of a great night's cricket.

Close to 23,500 were in attendance and the venue had never seen such numbers before. A big majority of them were Pakistani in spirit and hue, and love for their embattled nation and cricket team was the predominant emotion in the stands. It was a loud, ear-splitting cry as well.

Their passion and unstinting support did have its desired effect, lifting Pakistan's men in the middle to a thrilling one-wicket win. Chasing South Africa's 274 for six, Pakistan looked to be down for the count when Abdul Razzaq was the eighth wicket to fall in the 47th over for 244.

Zulqarnain Haider (19 not out) and Wahab Riaz (18), however, formed an unlikely alliance and helped by a few South Africa jitters on the field, carried Pakistan to within three runs of the target. Shoaib Akhtar then partnered Zulqarnain across the finish-line, with one ball to spare, for a memorable series-levelling win.

The stands erupted with joy and wild celebrations followed in the Pakistan dressing room too. With the two teams locked 2-2 in the five-match one-day international series, both the teams and fans will be waiting excitedly for Monday's deciding encounter.

Playing to save the series, Pakistan were off to a disappointing start with Imran Farhat back in the pavilion in the first over of the chase. Mohammed Hafeez kept the fans entertained through a chancy but stylish knock of 42 from 29 balls.

A solid 56-run partnership between Younus Khan and Asad Shafiq (36) followed before the latter's run-out.

Fawad Alam (6) then lasted only eight balls, while Shahid Afridi (29) stood sedate and defiant till instincts got the better of him. He stepped out to Johan Botha for one his mighty hits, but scooped the ball for Wayne Parnell.

When the Pakistan captain departed, his team still needed 104 from 108 balls. Younus was at the crease, on a 75-ball 47, and his new partner was Razzaq, the superhero of Pakistan's lone success. Together they took the score to 220 before Younus (73) chipped one back onto his stumps.

Pakistan needed 55 from 47 balls at that time and "Razzaq is our last hope" read a banner.

He did try his best, keeping South Africa on tenterhooks, but Pakistan's heroes were to arrive on the scene later.

Earlier, Graeme Smith had delighted the Proteas supporter with a punchy 92. Returning to the side after injuring his left hand while batting in the first ODI, he was the rock on which the South Africa innings was built. He dominated the scoring and strike in the 35-run opening partnership with Hashim Amla (10), added 27 with Jacques Kallis (15) and then outscored AB de Villiers (56 to 32) in a rollicking third wicket stand of 94.

Eight runs short of what would have been his ninth century in ODIs - his first in more than a year and 15 innings - Smith was beaten by a quicker delivery from off-spinner Mohammed Hafeez and adjudged leg before.

Smith was the third batsman out, in the 31st over with 156 on the board. His departure slowed South Africa's scoring rate; de Villiers and JP Duminy could get only 34 from the next 9.1 overs and the Proteas entered the slog overs with 190 for three on the board.

The search for quick runs gave Shoaib Akhtar his second victim of the innings. De Villiers (49), trying to carve a fullish delivery over point, sliced it to Hafeez. The batsman had not crossed the boundary ropes even once during his 70-ball innings. That success had the "Rawalpindi Express" steaming in harder, but Wahab Riaz stole his thunder with the dismissals of Duminy and David Miller off consecutive balls - both perfect yorkers that scattered the furniture.

Colin Ingram (27) and Johan Botha (28), however, seized the initiative back for South Africa with an unbeaten partnership for the seventh wicket that produced 48 runs from just 22 deliveries. That blitz, however, did not prove to be enough.