Clinical Pakistan win opening ODI match against SA in Port Elizabeth
South Africa knew coming into the series that Pakistan would not be a walkover.
And so it proved at St George’s Park on Saturday as Imam-ul-Haq made 86 to help the tourists claim a five-wicket victory in the first of the five matches with five balls to spare.
There were some nervy moments for the visitors towards the latter part of their chase but the experienced Mohammad Hafeez managed to steer them home with a fine, unbeaten 71.
Pakistan had not lost to the home side on three previous occasions at the coastal venue and they were just a step ahead of Faf du Plessis’s men in this game despite a 108 not out from Hashim Amla and an impressive 93 from debutant Rassie van der Dussen.
But the Proteas total of 266 for only two wickets was always going to be an in-between target against an attacking side like Pakistan, even on a surface that played on the slow side.
Their innings lacked the necessary acceleration in the last 10 overs and that will be something the Proteas will want to rectify in the second game in Durban on Tuesday.
If there was any Pakistani mental scarring from the Test series, not much of it showed.
The conditions were obviously more favourable for the visitors and openers Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman were full of confidence in their start taking Kagiso Rabada for 15 in his second over and got their team off to a flyer.
With first choices Lungi Ngidi (injured) and Dale Steyn (rested) not playing, it was a good time for South Africa to test their seam bowling reserves for the World Cup.
The Proteas used another debutant Duanne Olivier and both all-rounders Dwaine Pretorius and Andile Phehlukwayo.
Olivier, who tormented Pakistan in the Test series, impressed at times but also strayed on the short side although he did get the wickets of Imam-ul-Haq and Zaman for 25.
Imam-ul-Haq faced 101 deliveries and struck five fours and two sixes while Babar Azam’s handy 49 came off 79 balls.
Pakistan paced their innings well through the middle part and it was Imam-ul-Haq who played the anchor role.
They lost a couple of quick wickets before Hafeez’s innings saved the day.
Pretorius bowled reasonably accurately in conceding only 42 in his 10 overs while Phehlukwayo was on the expensive side as was Rabada.
Azam provided good support with his 49 before becoming an unlikely victim of part-time off-spinner Reeza Hendricks.
Leg-spinner Imran Tahir did stem the tide from one end taking one for 44 in his 10 overs but there were too many runs leaked at the other.
Earlier, Amla made his first ODI century at St George’s Park and the 27th of his career. There were seven fours in his 120-ball innings and a six that took him to his hundred.
Van der Dussen will have been satisfied with his contribution from a personal point of view.
Less than a month shy of his 30th birthday, Van der Dussen would have known he had to make the most of some limited opportunities.
South Africa came into this match with only 10 ODIs remaining during which to finalise their starting 11 for the opening ICC World Cup against host nation and world number one England on May 30.
So it was an opportune time for Van der Dussen, who averages over 43 in both first-class and List A domestic cricket, to make a statement.
There were some streaky inside edges past his leg stump but for the majority he looked the part after a nervous start.