“It’s been the case with Hafeez often. An enforcer in the middle overs and an excellent batsman when it comes to driving home the advantage, Hafeez has coped with more criticism than he probably actually deserved”
No Pakistan run-chase is complete without a characteristic mini-collapse and Port Elizabeth witnessed as much when at the brink of a fifth win in their last six ODIs against South Africa, they lost key wickets to give the hosts a ray of hope. But that was about it. With the Professor, Mohammad Hafeez, holding one end up and playing some delightful strokes, Pakistan seemed unperturbed by the fall of wickets at the other end and eventually, the 267-run target was way too small.
Pakistan were coming off the back of a disastrous Test series and as though to mentally bog them down, Duanne Olivier, their nemesis in the Tests, was handed a debut as was Rassie Van der Dussen. When South Africa opted to bat first and raced to 82 before losing their opening wicket, it seemed like another familiar tale from the series. Van der Dussen on debut was pristine with his shot-making and Hashim Amla appeared divinely good in a comeback hundred.
Despite the partnership blossoming and South Africa’s total booming, Pakistan were right in the game all the way through. Whether it was through Hasan Ali’s searing spell or Faheem Ashraf’s variations in the death, Pakistan kept South Africa on a leash and the eventual total of 266 said as much. Yet this was Pakistan and it was a run-chase. The tale has been scripted time and again over the years and given the potency of the South African attack, any other result seemed on the realms of impossible.
That’s when Imam-ul-Haq, very much in South Africa’s own Reeza Hendricks mould, decided to use his ugliness in technique to do nothing fancy but score runs. Imam’s 86 was glorious and it came after Olivier removed Fakhar Zaman early to peg Pakistan back but it was Mohammad Hafeez who stole the limelight with an innings characteristic of the 38-year old.
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With no Dale Steyn to hold him back, Hafeez was methodical, yet unwavering, positive, yet not aggressive and determined, yet not over-confident. Despite them beating South Africa in the last bilateral between the sides in this nation and Pakistan winning four of the last five ODI between these teams, 267 was no modest target for Pakistan. They have never chased as much against South Africa in South Africa but with Imam batting like a dream and Babar Azam carrying over some of his spent energy from the Test series to the ODIs, Pakistan suddenly felt like they were in the game.
The 94-run stand between Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq kept Pakistan within sight of South Africa’s target but with Pakistan and run-chases nothing can be trusted and South Africa survived on this hope. It took Reeza Hendricks’ innocuous off-spin to break the stand and the script seemed perfect yet again. Most of Pakistan’s collapses start with a terrible wicket and it was as good this time around as Babar Azam played all around Reeza and cleaned himself up. Imam was soon done in by a rush of blood as he lofted Olivier sloppily.
Shoaib Malik was still in and Mohammad Hafeez seemed like he had rediscovered some of his golden touch before the World Cup. In the space of two overs, Hafeez tonked Olivier out of the stadium and slogged Imran Tahir over mid-wicket. 49 needed and surely it appeared to be Pakistan’s game when Andile Phehlukwayo struck by helping Malik chop one onto his stumps. Tahir was soon making his marathon run after trapping Sarfaraz Ahmed in front and the game seemed to be headed towards another momentum shift.
Hafeez, though, appeared composed and in the 47th over bowled by Olivier, he dragged the seamer for two fours to keep Pakistan within touching distance. Dot balls ha grown in the time that Malik was dismissed and Shadab had played himself in but with the Professor taking hold of proceedings, Pakistan for once appeared in the game always.
It’s been the case with Hafeez often. An enforcer in the middle overs and an excellent batsman when it comes to driving home the advantage, Hafeez has coped with more criticism than he probably actually deserved. The surface got slower but Hafeez wasn’t going to let that be a talking point after the game was lost. Instead, he dragged Olivier and made him pay for his short lengths. Four boundaries came of the seamer – three from Hafeez – in his last two overs and before you knew it, Pakistan had aced a run-chase – no easy one mind you – with Hafeez unbeaten on 71 off 63 balls.