Pakistan chased down South Africa’s target of 204 with nine wickets in hand and two overs to spare in the third T20I of the series. They didn’t go after the target with guns and swords, but with the soft gentleness of timing and calm, led by Pakistan skipper Babar Azam’s maiden T20I hundred, which helped them take a 2-1 lead in the four-match series, in Centurion.
How good was Babar Azam’s knock?
The qualitative value of aesthetics makes it hard to recognize the universal best, but there are enough reasons why Babar Azam’s 59-ball 122, on Wednesday, would not be out of place if put in contention. On a day when he didn’t necessarily have to depend on his signature drives, even the hits over the in-field served him well, including a full-blooded flourish towards mid wicket for a boundary that seemed more like a wave of a brush than a slog. The deft touches towards the third man region and flicks on the legside also had high productivity.
What made the knock standout beyond just its value of beauty was the unhurried approach towards the total, despite having scored a scratchy half-century only an innings earlier. Pakistan had picked only 11 runs off the first two overs. Even though they picked pace in the remaining overs of the powerplay, finding themselves at 64 for no loss, they hadn’t been in a substantial advantage with the required rate. And much of the brunt of the assault in that period was faced by Beuran Hendricks, who conceded 40 in three overs till then. By the ninth over, George Linde had gone through his spell, giving away 38 runs.
Even though Pakistan were scoring at a faster pick than their South African counterparts, it was only a marginal advantage at 10 an over. There were periods where boundary didn’t come easy, yet he didn’t go too hard at the bowlers, hardly playing a false shot.
Pakistan did have their share of luck with a few deliveries falling in no-man’s region and an edge missing the stumps, but the instances were few and the innings was largely risk free. From the 10th to the 12th over, they picked a boundary each, from 13th to 15th, they added one more. In the 16th, Babar hit Tabraiz Shamsi for a six and two fours off consecutive deliveries, a phase in which he even registered a 49-ball hundred.
He was eventually dismissed in the 18th over when his attempted ramp off Lizaad Williams’s bouncer only reached the ‘keeper’s gloves. The wicket though came too late for South Africa’s liking, with only 7 runs needed in 14 balls.
What was happening at the other end?
Apart from being the only player on the ground to fully enjoy Babar’s innings, Mohammad Rizwan too played a handy part in the 197-run partnership as well as the run-chase. The ‘keeper-batsman may have been overshadowed by the pace and the grace of his captain’s innings, but he didn’t fall too behind in the scoring rate, even though he largely was largely at the non-striker’s end during the course of the 106-ball stand.
He had started slowly, offering Linde and Hendricks their cheapest overs, scoring only 8 off his first nine deliveries, before launching the former for a six over deep mid wicket.
Even though Rizwan didn’t carry the same grace as Babar, he too didn’t go hard at the bowlers. As the innings progressed, he relied on some cheeky strokeplay, which got him the desired outcome. There were more false strokes, edges and even a dropped catch late in his innings that aided his progress. But South Africa didn’t have ample luck on their side to stop an otherwise free-flowing stroke-making from either end by Pakistan.
He brought up his fifty in the 13th over of the chase, off only 33 balls and then went on to take Pakistan over the line, finishing on an unbeaten 47-ball 73.
How did South Africa post 203?
If the first 11 balls were any indication of what was to be expected by the approach of the South African openers, they were misleading. Off the 12th, Aiden Markram stepped out to Mohammad Nawaz and hit him down the ground for a six. That was the beginning of a relentless attack, a la Brendon McCullum.
Maybe with a bit more grace, but as bullish. Markram in specific. First he attacked the balls that didn’t call out to be hit. And when the pacers defensively sprayed around, he launched at them as well. In the fifth over, he hit Hasan Ali for three fours and a six off consecutive deliveries to bring up the half-century stand.
Jaaneman Malan too took the perks of Markram’s assault on the bowlers and even experimented a bit more with the unconventional shots behind the wicket en route his maiden T20I fifty.
Pakistan bowlers did manage to bowl a couple of quiet overs after the powerplay to ease the scoring rate, but it picked up again from the eighth over when a yorker by Faheem Ashraf got the inside edge of the bat and raced away for a boundary. The attack resumed from thereon.
Did Pakistan claw back?
At the half-way mark of the South African innings, Markram and Malan had put on a century stand. With all wickets remaining, on a good batting surface, 200 and a few more looked comfortable. However, once Markram inside edged Nawaz’s faster delivery on to the stumps and ended the partnership on 108, Pakistan saw an opening.
For a brief period, his loss didn’t have an impact as George Linde, who was promoted to No 3, raced away to a 11-ball 22. However, a flurry of wickets fell from the end of the 14th over. Linde and Heinrich Klaasen were dismissed inside-edging the balls on to the stumps and Malan reverse scooped the ball to the fielder at short third man.
Hasan Ali, who was expensive in the first spell, returned well in the death overs with his slower balls. Rassie van der Dussen’s late cameo helped South Africa cross the 200-run mark but it proved lesser than what they promised to score mid-way through their innings, and way toless after Pakistan got going in their chase.
Brief Scores: South Africa 203/5 in 20 overs (Aiden Markram 63, Jaaneman Malan 55; Mohammad Nawaz 2-38, Faheem Ashraf 1-37) lost to Pakistan 205/1 in 18 overs (Babar Azam 122, Mohammad Rizwan 73*; Lizaad Williams 1-34) by 9 wickets