This has been one thumping comeback. After being battered in the Test series, over the course of which several dressing room controversies surfaced, Pakistan were not expected to have the momentum on their side ahead of the last one-dayer at Cape Town. In fact, the mere thought of the final match of the series being a series-decider would have faced outright rejection.
It had been a while since Pakistan put comprehensive performances in all facets of the game. Mostly, their batting department had been the weak link. But, this series, the batsmen have stepped up. They have played with intent and seemed to have cracked the code of batting in ODI cricket.
On surfaces where South African batsmen have pulverized the best of the bowling line-ups, Pakistan’s bowling unit has done well to keep the screws tight on the hosts, which has allowed them to keep the wickets’ column ticking. In the Pink ODI, it sparked an epic collapse that restricted the Proteas to paltry 167, which on any other day would have been beyond the 300-run mark considering South Africa’s batting prowess in pink.
That there is a suggestion Pakistan have finally struck a right combination, from this squad, despite their captain being suspended is a big positive after how they exited the Asia Cup last year largely due to their failure to jot down a decent playing XI. Pakistan became the first Asian side to beat South Africa at home in an ODI series in 2013. Now, they are eyeing their second consecutive series win. And, the fact they are playing on a surface suitable for spin bowling further brightens their chances.
South Africa wanted to utilize this series to find the right balance to their side ahead of the World Cup. Their three debutants made an impact, proving they are ever-ready for national call-ups. Despite possessing an otherwise daunting lineup, the hosts have been outplayed – even in some patches of the matches they ended up winning – by the touring party throughout the series. And, in the surprising turn of events, it is they who will be feeling the heat ahead of the all-important final.
South Africa: Wiaan Mulder has been added to the squad for the series-decider. The hosts will be looking to bring their A-team to ensure a series win at arguably the most important stage of their World Cup preparations. Having said that, the comfort with which the Pakistan batsmen tackled Imran Tahir may force them to bring in Tabraiz Shamsi.
Probable XI: Quinton de Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, Reeza Hendricks, Faf du Plessis (C), Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo/Wiaan Mulder, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Beuran Hendricks, Imran Tahir/Tabraiz Shamsi
Pakistan: Though Pakistan were exceptional with the ball in the Pink ODI, questions remain over their first-change bowler. In Johannesburg, they tried Mohammad Amir at that position, but Hasan Ali has largely reaped success in that role. In fact, for his very ability to inflict damage in the middle overs with lateral movement off the surface at a daunting pace, Hasan was awarded player of the tournament award in the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017. With the World Cup at the same venue as the Champions Trophy, Pakistan would want Hasan to retain that role.
Probable XI: Imam ul Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik (C), Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir/Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Usman Khan