Following the manner in which Pakistan were outdone by the South Africans in the ODIs in the UAE, there seemed little chance of them performing well in South Africa, where the hosts are next to invincible. But, two games was all it needed for Pakistan to prove their detractors wrong. The three-match series is now in their bag following two solid performances. South Africa have run Pakistan close in both the games with the bat and ball, but ironically have displayed a Pakistan-like tendency of not finishing things off, which has cost them the series at home.
Pakistan’s memorable series win can be put down to the introduction of some talented new faces, who have brought a renewed sense of freshness and positivity in the side. The opening one-dayer at Cape Town was the perfect example of this assumption. Batting first, Pakistan were in the doldrums having lost their first seven wickets cheaply. Under mundane circumstances, Pakistan would have capsized and allowed the opposition to embarrass them. Here though, the story was different. Two youngsters, of whom world cricket knew little, and who were primarily chosen as bowlers, stood up to the challenge.
The beauty of experienced professionals taking on rookies in the same sport is that in spite of having the requisite advantage of having played at the highest level, the veterans often struggle to win the battles against newcomers. The novelty factor could be one of the reasons why a lot of debutants do well on their international debut. And so it was with Bilawal Bhatti and Anwar Ali. Mind you, they hardly showed any signs of nerves, if they had any, in spite of the difficulty of the situation. On the contrary, they performed like true, hardened professionals.
The partnership between Bhatti and Ali at Cape Town was a classic example in how to rebuild an innings. Both combined caution and aggression in a perfectly balanced style to help Pakistan recover to an extent. They were lucky as well, but then they deserved the same for they batted so well. In spite of their performance, Pakistan did not end up with a decent total, but their alliance swung the momentum their way. And, just like it happened with Mitchell Johnson at the Gabba, their batting efforts saw Ali and Bhatti raise their games with the ball as well. Both the medium pacers bowled with accuracy and gusto to outdo the much experienced South African batsmen in their home turf.
Although Ali and Bhatti did not contribute much in the series-winning second ODI at Port Elizabeth, their presence itself seemed to have lifted the team. And so, while Ahmed Shehzad came up with a magnificent century and Junaid Khan bowled a brilliant spell to tie down South Africa and take the visitors to victory, it was Pakistan’s attitude that stood out. Like in the opening game, they were on the backfoot at Port Elizabeth as well, but showed the tenacity to fight back and shock the Proteas.
--By A Cricket Analyst