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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Proteas move to the top of the table and put one foot in semi-finals after pulling off nail-biting win over Pakistan

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This Cricket Cup had yearned for a thriller. But the Proteas can always be trusted to deliver the drama, which they duly did in their tension-filled one-wicket victory over Pakistan.

In the process they finally broke a double ICC Cup hoodoo in Chennai on Friday night.

Not since the 1999 Cup has South Africa beaten Pakistan, with the former champions holding sway in Cup encounters between these two teams ever since.

Temba Bavuma’s team consigned that fact to history in a nail biting chase at the Chepauk Stadium to put the Proteas within touching distance of a place in the semifinals with a fifth victory from six starts.

This was no fluke, no one-off in a dead match with the opposition off the boil. Pakistan were fighting with all their might for their Cup survival, desperate to keep the flagging hopes in this tournament alive.

But the Proteas Class of 2023 are determined to show they not only have the skill and talent, but also the mental composure to go deep here in India.

Keshav Maharaj’s emotive celebration after striking the winning runs was a visible indication of what it actually means for this team to finally get over the line, and just how much confidence they will take from it moving forward.

And yet it all seemed smooth sailing at 250/6, with Aiden Markram unbeaten on 91, and only 21 runs still required for victory.

But Pakistan’s Cup livelihood was entirely dependent on this game. And there’s no team, when pushed up against the wall, that fights back with all its might like Pakistan.

The catalyst that set the drama in motion came in the most unlikely figure of concussion substitute Usama Mir. The leg-spinner was only on the field due to Shadab Khan having fallen badly in the first over, but he certainly made his presence felt.

Having already trapped Rassie van der Dussen LBW earlier, he now induced a false shot from Markram to open the door to South Africa’s tail.

Shaheen Shah Afridi (3/45) and Haris Rauf (2/62) came barging through, removing Gerald Coetzee and Lungi Ngidi, that left Maharaj with only his good mate Tabraiz Shamsi for company with 11 runs still required.

South Africa had lost three wickets for 10 runs and the momentum was firmly with Pakistan.

The entire South African dressing room, and possibly also Pakistan bowling coach and former Proteas fast bowler Morne Morkel who was visibly caught between two worlds, hearts stopped though when Haris Rauf struck Shamsi on the pads.

Umpire Alex Wharf initially turned down the appeal, only for it to be sent upstairs where the DRS ruled in favour of the umpire’s call despite the ball clipping the outside of the leg stump.

It was the finest of margins, which ultimately allowed Maharaj to hit the winning runs off Mohammed Nawaz, that sent the large contingent of South Africans fans inside the stadium into delirium.

Shamsi certainly had a game to remember. Having missed out on the last couple of matches, he not only contributed in the crucial last wicket partnership with late cuts down to third reminiscent of Makhaya Ntini’s famous dab in the “438” match, but the wrist spinner returned excellent figures of 4/60 to restrict Pakistan in their innings upon his return.

Asked to field in 36 degrees sultry heat and humidity, the Proteas bowling unit sans Kagiso Rabada dismissed Pakistan for 270 with half-centuries for Babar Azam (50) and Saud Shakeel (52).

A total in excess of 300 seemed to be par a good surface which did not produce any of the trickery expected, but Shamsi’s strikes along with Marco Jansen’s 3/43 ensured the eventual total was just within reach of the Proteas.

Scorecard

Pakistan: 270 all out (Babar Azam 50, Saud Shakeel 52, Shamsi 4/60, Jansen 3/43)

South Africa: 271/9 (Markram 91, Miller 29, Afridi 3/45)

South Africa won by 1 wicket

Sport

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