Pakistan defeated South Africa by 49 runs in an exciting encounter at the home of cricket, Lord’s.
The Pakistani batting line-up produced an excellent effort as they made a competitive 308-7.
Their bowlers then did then took wickets at crucial moments and South Africa struggled to reach the target as the run rate spiralled upwards.
Captain Sarfaraz won the toss and chose to bat. With less pressure and nothing to lose, the openers got Pakistan off to a flyer. Fakhar was the initial aggressor with a cracking four through the covers in the first over.
He then followed up with two more boundaries in the third. The first, an exquisite front-foot pull in front of square. The second, a sweetly-hit pull-shot to square leg!
Imam-ul-Haq then joined the party with two fours of his own in the fourth. After a pull through the leg side, he hit the first of many elegant cover-drives.
Fakhar finished the fifth over with a slash through gully for another four, to cap a good first five overs for Pakistan, in which they had scored at more than seven runs per over.
Anything that was remotely short from the South Africans, Fakhar was onto like a flash. He smashed Ngidi for six over the mid-wicket boundary for the first maximum of the match.
Pakistan brought up the fifty in the eighth over. Imam welcomed Chris Morris into the attack by hitting him back down the ground with an off-drive for four. He was then fortunate to edge him for another four through the slips.
Pakistan finished the first powerplay 58-0 in a bright start for Imam and Fakhar. South Africa however started to restrict the flow of runs in the next five overs.
In the 15th over, Du Plessis brought Pakistan-born Imran Tahir into the attack to get the much-needed breakthrough. And it paid dividends.
Fakhar who had played beautifully for his 44 off 50 balls, mistimed a horrible paddle shot which looped over the head of De Kock and was caught by a retreating Amla fielding at slip.
The enigmatic Tahir struck again six overs later, when he leapt like a lion to catch Imam’s straight drive off his own bowling. The 40 year old demonstrated the reflexes of a teenager, and then was even quicker to jump to his feet and sprint 150m for his trademark chest-beating celebration.
It was a shame for Imam, who looked like he had found some form as he crafted a brilliant innings of 44 off 57 balls. He would have rued his mistake knowing that he would have wanted to turn his start into a big score.
Babar had found scoring tough at the beginning as South Africa stifled him with very straight bowling to make it tough to settle. After only scoring two runs off his first dozen balls, he settled the nerves with a crushing four through the off side.
Pakistan reached the 100-mark in the 22nd over. Babar put his slow start behind with another pair of glorious fours.
Tahir thought he had secured his and Pakistan’s third wicket when he seemingly had Hafeez trapped lbw on the last ball of the 25th over. South Africa lost their review as ball-tracker showed that the ball was going over the stumps.
Five overs later though, a Pakistan batsman was dismissed lbw. Aiden Markram trapped Mohammed Hafeez, who disappointingly departed for 20 runs off 30 balls.
Since the first powerplay, during which Pakistan had been scoring at more than six runs an over, South Africa had been gradually reducing the run rate. By the 32nd over, which is when Pakistan had reached the 150-mark, it was below five runs per over.
Haris Sohail however produced a game-changing innings which took Pakistan back up the gears to with his clean striking.
In the 35th over, he hit two consecutive boundaries which summed up his outlook. After having hit a gorgeous, high-elbow, straight-bat on drive for four, he anticipated the short ball, used his crease and cut for a six.
Babar played the anchor role alongside him and he reached his fifty the next over. Haris continued to hit the crunching boundaries and it was not long before he propelled Pakistan to 200 in the 38th over.
As Pakistan chased runs in the final powerplay, Babar changed his game and started chasing the big hits. He got away with a high heave which landed in between two fielders. But the next ball, trying something similar, he mistimed a Phehlukwayo slower ball to Ngidi in the deep, and fell for a valiant 69 from 80 balls.
Haris Sohail nevertheless continued to play his entertaining knock. He reached his fifty in the 43rd with a gorgeously guided four to the third man boundary.
Pakistan scored 16 in the 44th over. Imad hit a fabulous four through the covers on his first ball. Haris followed this up with a six to bring up Pakistan’s 250. Then he smothered a four through mid-wicket.
After being dropped in the deep in the 45th, Haris middled an 80m six in the 46th. Imad, although not as fluent, played himself in and made a handy knock. The pair were regularly scoring double digits each over as they lifted the run rate to back above six runs an over.
Imad eventually was caught in the deep, but his quickfire cameo of 23 from 15 balls, as well as giving Haris a partner when he needed, helped to propel his team towards 300.
In the final over, the hard-hitting Wahab Riaz was bowled by a beautiful slower ball from Lungi Ngidi, which sclipped the top of off-stump.
With 2 balls left in the innings, Haris Sohail on 89, might have been thinking about going for his century. But going for a huge hit, a leading edge went up in the air and straight to the keeper De Kock. It was his innings that changed the game, and gave Pakistan a serious chance of winning the match.
As they did against England, and in the 2017 Champions Trophy Final, they look better when they bat first, post a total, and allow their bowlers to win the match.
With South Africa chasing 309, Pakistan were hoping to get the scalp of lynchpin Quentin De Kock early by beginning with the spin of Mohammed Hafeez.
And it very nearly paid off. De Kock did not strike the ball as clearly as he liked and he was nearly caught out by Wahab Riaz at mid on.
Pakistan brought on their star bowler Mohammed Amir to bowl the second. With his very first ball, he thought he had Amla trapped lbw. But with the naked eye there was doubt as to whether it was pitching in line, and whether it might have been going down leg.
Amir however was adamant and cajoled an otherwise unsure Sarfaraz to go for the review. And he was right to do so. Amla was out for two from three balls, and South Africa were 4-1 after seven balls.
Pakistan were uncharacteristically fielding very well, to begin with anyway. As well as Amir, Shaheed Afridi looked promising in his opening spell, and the bowlers were supported by an honest effort in the field.
The twelfth man factor was also coming into play as the vocal and colourful Pakistan fans got behind their teams with chants, particularly when Mo Amir ran into bowl.
De Kock and Du Plessis however, stabilised the innings for the Proteas. Although they scored at a slow rate, they played their way back into the match with their partnership of 87.
De Kock looked like he was starting to get into his groove which got him the reputation as South Africa’s answer to Adam Gilchrist. In the 19th over, he smashed Wahab for four, and then hit a sweet six over deep fine leg.
In the next over though he departed three runs short of his fifty. He tried to slog sweep Shadab Khan over the deep square leg boundary, but was caught by a fantastic catch by Imam in the deep.
Four overs later, Shadab struck again. Aiden Markram never really got started and he was done by a skidding delivery by the spinner. The Proteas’ loss of two wickets for 12 runs looked like a massive momentum shift.
Du Plessis was determined however to lead from the front. In what had been a captain’s innings up until that point, Du Plessis brought up his fifty in the 26th over.
With the required run rate rising, the South African skipper recognised the need to start to up the ante, and at first he was successful. He and Van Der Dussen notched up 12 runs from Shadab’s over in the 28th.
However, to counteract his aggressive and fluent hitting, Sarfaraz turned to his go-to man Mohammed Amir. And he had an immediate impact as Du Plessis edged into the sky and Sarfaraz put his name on it and took the safe catch with the gloves.
Amir nearly struck again. He caught and bowled David Miller early in his innings. But as he completed his dive, his elbow hit the ground and the ball popped out.
Unfortunately for Amir, his poor luck did not stop there. Although depending on who you ask, it might have been considered a poor effort in the field. The ball seemed to follow him wherever he was fielding and he dropped a couple of more chances.
Van Der Dussen and Miller put together a mini-revival with a partnership of 53, as both punished Pakistan’s dropped catches with gutsy efforts, hard-running and big-hitting.
As both of the midde-order pinch hitters registered their thirties, leg-spinner Shadab was brought back into the attack. In the 40th over, the impatient Van Der Dussen went for the big hit, against the spin and across the line. His leading edge went up in the air and Mohammed Hafeez showed his teammates how to take a catch.
David Miller fell shortly after. With South Africa needing two runs a ball, he tried to hit came down the wicket to hit Shaheen Afridi. He missed but Shaheen did not, as the stumps were knocked over to effectively seal the victory for the Pakistanis.
Wahab Riaz (3 for 46) still had time for one of his lethal reverse-swinging yorkers to dismiss Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi. South Africa finished on 259-9.
If teams are built in four-year cycles, then South Africa need to reflect, recoup and rebuild for the next World Cup. They have a good core of talented players, but they have failed to pick up the winning habit at this World Cup.
After their emphatic loss to India, it was a great way for Pakistan to bounce back. Although they were still exposed in the field, the positive attitude and honest effort was clear for all to see.
This was the least that their fans deserve. At this World Cup, they have enjoyed some of the most loyal and boisterous support, even when they have performed abysmally.
When Pakistan perform like this, it leaves one wondering what sort of team they would be if they played like this all the time.