x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Valiant Pakistan leave it too late

Hashim Amla's brilliant century is just enough for South Africa after Pakistan fall short by two runs in the third ODI in Dubai.

Hashim Amla celebrates his century in Dubai, which helped set a score Pakistan could not quite chase down.
Hashim Amla celebrates his century in Dubai, which helped set a score Pakistan could not quite chase down.

DUBAI //Pakistan's supporters wielded fluffy animals and homemade placards celebrating the revival of their nation's "cornered tigers" in the stands at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium last night.

The current vintage may still have much to do to repeat the feats of the players that Imran Khan famously inspired to success in the 1992 World Cup final with a speech invoking the spirit of trapped animals.

They subsided to a two-run defeat to South Africa in Sports City last night, but following on so quickly from their against-all-odds win two nights earlier, nobody should be in doubt: this team knows how to fight.

Once again all had appeared lost. They hit back and, though they eventually fell just short and thus fell 2-1 behind in the series, Pakistan are now a credible force again in international cricket.

At his current rate of progress, Hashim Amla should overtake his teammate, AB de Villiers, at the top of the rankings for one-day international batsmen as soon as the results of this series are entered in to the database next week.

The Proteas built their triumph on Amla's serene 119 not out. Amla's bookish appearance and timid body-language make him seem better suited to the library than the international batting crease.

There was a time, not so long ago, when he was thought to be unsuited the limited-overs form at all. How ludicrous that out-dated theory seems now.

In 18 ODI innings since September 2009, Amla's lowest score has been 11, and he has passed 50 seven times, with an additional five hundreds. Over the course of the 100 overs, he was the only batsman who really looked comfortable on a tired-looking batting track.

He also admitted the same, saying, "It was a tough wicket, but I got some rhythm going. I realised from the beginning that I needed to bat through. I knew 200-220 is a good score here."

He was certainly the only South African who got to grips with Shoaib Akhtar, Pakistan's renaissance man with the ball.

At 35 years old, Akhtar should be thinking about slowing down. It has been a good few years since he relied on raw pace alone, and he proved here just how potent the judicious use of slower balls can be.

His opening two victims both fell to slower balls. First he picked up the returning Jacques Kallis, who chopped a length ball on to his stumps. Then, Colin Ingram, the in-form player, chipped up a return catch straight to Akhtar, after mistiming his drive at a slower ball.

Johan Botha bore the brunt. He was set up by an Akhtar fast-ball which crashed into his helmet. On the very next delivery, his stumps were splayed by a rapid yorker.

His three-wicket haul kept the South Africans to 228 for nine, which had appeared gettable at the break. However, Pakistan's challenge faltered on the back of a strong return from Morne Morkel, who picked up four wickets including the key one of Shahid Afridi, and the equally vital scalp of Wahab Riaz.

Riaz has caught the eye with the ball so far in this series, but it was his 10-ball cameo of lusty hitting, worth 21, late in the night which nearly swung the game towards Pakistan. When he departed, Alam took up the slack and guided his side to within two of victory. In a frantic finish, he ended on 59, but he was eventually forced to watch on helplessly from the non-striker's end as Rusty Theron closed out a thrilling win for the Proteas.