Temba Bavuma’s international captaincy started on a tense and losing note on Friday as Babar Azam’s majestic 103 helped Pakistan to a nail biting three-wicket win against South Africa in the first ODI at SuperSport Park in Centurion.
Pakistan, who were ahead of the eight-ball at most junctures, ended up making heavy weather of chasing down South Africa’s 273/6 that was buttressed by Rassie van der Dussen’s excellent 123*.
Pakistan were cruising at 186/1 in the 32nd over, but when Anrich Nortje (4/51), bulldozed through Pakistan’s middle-order with a ferocious spell, the visitors were 206/5 in the 38th over.
Mohammad Rizwan, South Africa’s nemesis during the Pakistan tour earlier this year, doused Nortje’s flames and looked to be guiding the visitors home.
He fell to Andile Phehlukwayo (2/56) in the 48th over and Shadab Khan (33) survived two chances in the 49th over where Van Der Dussen couldn’t catch his skier.
The very next ball, Ngidi bowled him with a high full toss that was declared a no-ball. He clubbed the free hit for four and took three off the last ball of the 49th over to leave Pakistan with three to get in the final over.
Shadab then holed out to Van der Dussen in the first ball of the last over bowled by Phehlukwayo, who did his best to defend the target.
Faheem Ashraf (five) cut the wide last ball to secure the win and ensure Azam’s work wasn’t wasted.
In compiling his 13th ODI hundred off just 103 balls, Azam (103) was flawless. His bat was a wand that created batting magic SA simply had no response to.
He became the fastest batsman reach 13 ODI tons (76 innings), surpassing the likes of Hashim Amla (83), Virat Kohli, Quinton de Kock (86) and David Warner (91)
There wasn’t a lot of foot movement, but the hand-eye coordination, his hands and the delightful wrist work manipulated the gaps and found boundaries at will.
He caressed 17 of them as Bavuma watched on helplessly as his bowlers failed to find the anti-dote to his mesmerizing batting.
It was an innings that was deserving of a capacity crowd, a regular occurrence in Centurion when Pakistan play there.
That Nortje coaxed an outside edge that was well snaffled by Quinton de Kock the ball after he reached his landmark encapsulated SA’s bowling endeavour.
Azam may have given a tough chance when he was on three that Aiden Markram grassed off Lungi Ngidi, but everything else that SA threw at him, he non-violently thrashed to where he wanted to.
During his 177-run second wicket partnership with Imam-ul-Haq (70) that spanned 181 balls, Azam not only shrugged off Fakhar Zaman’s early loss to Kagiso Rabada (1/51) that left Pakistan at 9/1, but seemingly had the chase on a string.
That they started sedately wasn’t an issue, but when threatening clouds rolled in, Azam upped the tempo and by the time Pakistan’s chase reached the 20 overs needed to constitute a game, they were 93/1, six ahead of the Duckworth/Lewis/Stern target.
Where boundaries weren’t available, the strike was rotated to excellent effect. Imam only hit three fours and one six.
However, Nortje then had a massive say in the game.
After removing Azam, he forced a misguided pull from Imam that was pouched by Rabada at mid-on.
Debutant Danish Aziz (three) feathered a fierce Nortje bouncer to De Kock before collecting Cape Town Blitz teammate Asif Ali (two), who picked out Phehlukwayo at fine leg.
Nortje’s second spell saw him collect 4/20, but he could not dislodge Rizwan, whose 53-run partnership with Khan calmed growing nerves.
SA owed their competitive target to Van der Dussen’s gritty ton after they were 55/4 after 14.2 overs.
Shaheen Shah Afridi (2/61) had removed De Kock (20) and Markram in the same over while Mohammed Hasnain (1/52) got rid of Bavuma (one) to leave SA tottering at 43/3 in the eighth-over.
Van Der Dussen survived a sharp chance that was dropped by Ali before he scored and Heinrich Klaasen’s constipated 21-ball one that left SA in the quagmire at 55/4 in the 15th over.
A 116-run fifth-wicket partnership with David Miller (50) stabilised the innings before successive 64 and 38-run alliances with Phehlukwayo (29) and Rabada (13*) helped set the competitive target.
Azam’s magic went a long way to ensure it wasn’t, despite Nortje’s fightback and tight death bowling.