South Africa vs Pakistan, 1st ODI, 2021 - Pakistan overcome the panic

South Africa vs Pakistan, 1st ODI, 2021 – Pakistan overcome the panic


Imam-ul-Haq was frustrated at not being able to see the chase home, but they got there in the end

It should’ve been far more comfortable than it ultimately was but given Pakistan’s records in chases such as the one they faced at Centurion, it is an achievement they eventually overcame two distinct phases of panic after two set partnerships to sneak through.

Chasing 274 in the modern ODI isn’t usually seen as problematic, even accounting for a slightly trickier surface but this chase was only Pakistan’s fifth successful one of a 270-plus target in a decade. That is the same number as Ireland and fewer than every Full Member other than Zimbabwe. Chasing, all of Pakistan knows, is not a strength.

And so, as much as the win, the collapse from 186 for 1 to 203 for 5 and the unnecessary losses of Mohammad Rizwan and Shadab Khan after a steadying partnership, was on the minds of Pakistan post-game. “You know there’s this pandemic bringing everyone down these days and so we thought we’d entertain people a little,” joked Imam-ul-Haq, whose 70 caught the mood of the win: a good enough, but it should’ve been much more.

“But on a serious note, if you want to win big tournaments and become a top three team… it’s not as if we don’t talk about this in our meetings, it gets discussed, that if your top three get set in white-ball, then in other teams they don’t just make 100, they get 150. That is what we’re trying to do, like Babar [Azam] and I were set today, we should finish the game. We were playing an ODI after a long time. We want to learn from our mistakes and turn these 70s and 80s into matchwinning knocks and turn a win like this into a seven- or six-wicket win.”

Imam did point out that a good quality attack and a surface with spongy bounce played a role in their eventual difficulties, but Pakistan and Imam’s rustiness in the format was evident too. This was only Pakistan’s sixth ODI since the 2019 World Cup and Imam himself has been a peripheral presence since that tournament – a result of no longer being in the Test XI and not getting enough ODIs to play.

“To be honest, I’m very disappointed [in not finishing the game],” Imam said. “I’ve been waiting one and a half years since my last hundred. I haven’t had that many opportunities in the last year. You don’t always get what you want, but I’ve got two more games to make up for it.”

Pakistan will also cheer Babar Azam’s hundred, his 13th in ODIs. He hasn’t been out-of-form exactly but a little dip in the Tests against South Africa earlier this year – when Keshav Maharaj troubled him – had induced a hint of anxiety among fans. He’s since responded with runs in the PSL and now this innings, soothing reassurance that there are very few batsmen in the world better than him right now.

“I enjoyed that hundred quite a bit,” Azam said. “With Imam the plan was just to stretch that partnership as far as possible into the target. We just didn’t want to lose focus at any stage. We wanted to finish it but unfortunately, I got out, then Imam did and we had a bit of a collapse which put pressure on us. But Rizi and Shadab really had an outstanding partnership that brought us back into the game.

“We’re feeling quite confident after this win and I want to keep my form going in the next game. When you win, you have some good things and bad things you take from the game. I’m going to speak to the boys about the mistakes we made a bit more and discuss how we could’ve done things better.”

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