The Proteas suffered an 19-run D/L method defeat to Pakistan at Edgbaston, to leave Group B of the Champions Trophy wide open.
Even when Pakistan appear to have hit the lowest of lows, you can never count out their unpredictability. When they lost by 124 runs D/L method to India on Sunday, the Proteas would have smelled blood. Poor fielding, the worst Champions Trophy bowling figures in history and a lack-lustre top six made it difficult to see past a Proteas victory.
It was No 1 vs No 8 in the world, and even though Pakistan had beaten the Proteas in the World Cup two years ago, only one player remained from that Pakistan side. That one player was their skipper Sarfraz Ahmed, and losing the toss at Edgbaston on Wednesday was the best thing that could have happened to his side.
AB de Villiers decided to bat first. This, despite Pakistan’s strength lying in their bowling attack, as well as the chance of showers later in the day. At around 19:45 the light drizzle started to fall, and it persisted, with Pakistan 19 runs ahead on the D/L method. The rain has haunted the Proteas in big tournaments over the years, but this was one they deserved to lose.
Sarfraz rotated his bowlers to near perfection. Realising that Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock were comfortable against the left-arm pace of Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan, he was quick to bring on the spin of Imad Wasim (2-20) and Mohammad Hafeez (1-50). Six overs later, the Proteas were three down.
Amla (16) and De Kock (33) both fell victim to straight ones that crashed on to their pads. AB de Villiers, for the first time in his ODI career, fell for a golden duck, swishing at one that went straight into the hands of Hafeez at point.
The introduction of right-arm seamer Hasan Ali (3-24) brought about three more wickets. Faf du Plessis chopped one on for 26, JP Duminy (8) edged one to first slip, and Wayne Parnell was castled by a pearler of a delivery for the second golden duck of the innings.
Resistance came in the form of David Miller, who has welcomed his new role at No 5 with open arms. His partnerships with Chris Morris (28) and Kagiso Rabada (26) yielded 47 and 48 runs respectively. 118-6 turned into 219-8 by the end of the 50 overs, giving the Proteas something to work with. Miller finished unbeaten on 75 off 104 balls.
Unpredictable was the buzzword attached to the Pakistanis coming into this match, and Fakhar Zaman was the leading subject. Unknown to the Proteas, but with an average of 50 and a strike rate close to 100 at domestic level, their debutant had the potential to unsettle proceedings at the top of the order, and that he did.
Parnell did what the Pakistanis avoided so brilliantly throughout the Proteas’ innings – give away loose deliveries. Zaman struck three fours off the first six Parnell balls. He proceeded to inflict similar damage on Rabada, and by the end of five overs, Pakistan had waltzed their way to 32-0.
That was the sting off the chase that Pakistan were looking for, and from there they were always ahead of the D/L par score. The introduction of Morne Morkel brought the Proteas right back in it at one stage, though. He got the extra bounce that Parnell was looking for from the Pavilion End, and it resulted in two wickets off the first four balls of his spell. Zambian departed for 31 off 23, and Azhar Ali (9) quickly followed him back.
The run rate stifled from there as three maiden overs were bowled in a row, but Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez kept their composure to chip away at the total. Morkel had a third as Hafeez departed for 26, but Shoaib Malik came in and hit three boundaries in a seven-ball blitz. With Azam (31 off 51) finding the 1s and 2s at the other end, they were 19 runs ahead of par when the rain came, on 119-3 off 27 overs.
This should have been the match that all but confirmed the Proteas a semi-final spot, but it now leaves Group B wide open. Sri Lanka remain the only side without a victory, and with India expected to beat them on Thursday, the Proteas will probably be fighting for their survival against India on Sunday.
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