Pakistan 289 for 9 (Razzaq 109*, Afridi 49, Alam 48) beat South Africa 286 for 8 (Ingram 100, Amla 65, Duminy 54) by one wicket
There are match-winning centuries and there are Match-winning Centuries. You will travel far and wide, maybe even go back in time, but you will struggle to find a more remarkable game-stealing hundred than the one the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi saw tonight. An outrageous 72-ball 109 from Abdul Razzaq dragged Pakistan to a series-levelling target of 287 against South Africa, one ball and one wicket left.
It was scarcely-scriptable and only when Razzaq hit his tenth six in the last over, slogging Albie Morkel over midwicket to climax an unimaginable orgy of power-hitting, was a Pakistan win even worth contemplating; until then he had played to a backdrop of impending, imminent doom. To even get to that point needing 14 was a feat because for 99 overs Pakistan looked a distant second best; a solid, now-to-be-forgotten century from Colin Ingram, hands from Hashim Amla and JP Duminy and the continuing refusal of Pakistan’s top order to turn up, the distinct story till then.
Shahid Afridi and Fawad Alam had tried gamely to make something of the disaster of 70 for 4 in the 19th over. The spinners were on, Afridi was around so inevitably some fun was had. When Afridi went in the 30th, the score at 136, still the best they could hope for was an honourable scrap.
Razzaq began quietly, expressive as a stone, and even a dance-down six off Robin Peterson four overs after Afridi left felt decorative. Alam, meanwhile, was getting bogged down by his own inability to clear a field. But South Africa relaxed, the pair stuck at it. Alam suddenly got going and Razzaq smoked a couple more sixes. By the 40th over, at 200 for 5, theoretically it looked possible – in this age of Twenty20 at least – even if, in reality, it didn’t feel gettable.
But for once, Pakistan timed their Powerplay right and when Johan Botha was taken for 11 in the very first, a little tension crept in. Only a little though, for Alam went soon, Morne Morkel bowled two fine overs, there was the inevitable run-out and even though Razzaq had reached his fifty, it was done and dusted.
The 47th over, bowled poorly by Charles Langeveldt, was pivotal. Razzaq launched a sequence of length balls for three sixes in his favourite areas – flat-batted over extra cover, high over long-on and down the ground. Eighteen runs but no expression. Wahab Riaz’s run-out off the last ball was merely collateral damage as 53 from 24 became 33 from 18.
Razzaq had decided at the fall of Alam that if the match was to be won, it would be by him alone, so with the tail in, several singles were turned down. With 25 needed from 12, Langeveldt was lofted down the ground and then pulled with cartoonish violence to midwicket. By the time Razzaq had taken the 14 needed off the last over he had scored 63 of the last 65, effectively from the 45th over onwards. Six sixes came in the last four overs, and only at the very end, after crashing a drive through point, did he let his emotions out, dropping his bat and trying to run but not knowing where to go.
That put to shade all that went before it. South Africa’s real work had been done with the bat and Ingram’s second ODI century was a real old-school effort. The start was edgy, even if it contained a classy punch through midwicket. But once he jumped down the track and lofted Razzaq down the ground, nerves were shed.
Thereafter, singles and doubles rolled by and so incongruously did he go about it that his fifty, at the halfway mark, was actually a surprise. He never fully got hold of the spinners but neither did they really trouble him and a pattern emerged. There was a missed stumping, but a ball previous, he had driven solidly through covers. Five times an edge was drawn and each time a boundary was the result. He might even have been run out on 73, but so settled was he that a century never looked in serious doubt. Every time the spinners erred, he took advantage, cutting and pulling efficiently. The running was the highlight, aggressive throughout.
But it was Amla who had set the tone and allowed Ingram such comfort. His ODI batting has been a revelation since his late debut in 2008; he now has nine fifties and five hundreds in just 34 games. At a 90-plus strike rate, they don’t come slowly either. But most revelatory is the persistent quality of his stokeplay, unique and utterly compelling. So quick are the hands and wrists that the feet don’t need to move.
He began with a burst of boundaries, four in the first two overs, rotating his bat like a wand for flicks and cuts through point. More cuts, whips and a rare drive through the off kept coming so that even when singles dried up, the runs didn’t. A fifty, off just 47 balls, was merely statistical embellishment to a wondrous hour of batting, especially on a surface slow enough to hamper timing. He is not the modern macho ODI opener, and it cannot be disputed the format needs such flair over brutality and function.
Across the desert in Dubai, as Botha was winning the toss, Mohammad Amir’s suspension was not being lifted and how his absence was felt by Pakistan. In turn, they were awful, complacent, solid and special. Shoaib Akhtar and Razzaq are a different proposition altogether than Amir and Mohammad Asif, as their opening spells – short, wide and inconsistent – proved.
There came brief spells of tight work, from the spinners, but never prolonged. The best they saved for last and it came from the impressive Wahab Riaz. Just when South Africa were looking to explode in the batting Powerplay, yorkers, short balls and cutters ensured only 25 runs came, Riaz picking up two of the three wickets to fall.
It felt a relative victory then, a twinkling cameo from Duminy highlighting its hollowness. A potential target of 300-plus became 287; Pakistan’s best chase against these opponents was 223 and they had only chased down 250-plus twice in the last two years. And they certainly hadn’t chased them down like they finally did here.