“South Africa were into stage one of knockout game preparation. At 80 for 5 they seemed well and truly behind the eight balls and saving the game from then on appeared an arduous task. The two most unlikely to win South Africa the game from then were at the crease – Rassie Van der Dussen and Andile Phehlukwayo”

It seemed surprising that Faf du Plessis opted to bowl first after winning the toss at Durban, a surface that has traditionally slowed down in the second half of the innings. Yet, when the South African skipper made the choice, he was seeking a better preparation for the future than looking to level a bilateral series that is likely forgotten a week after it’s done.

South Africa aren’t the greatest in pressure situations and chasing (despite what home records of late suggest) has never been their forte. du Plessis would have ideally liked Pakistan to post something more threatening than the 203 they eventually ambled along to courtesy some Hasan Ali striking but as the top-order fumbled against a fiery Shaheen Shah Afridi, du Plessis’ wish was granted.

South Africa were into stage one of knockout game preparation. At 80 for 5 they seemed well and truly behind the eight balls and saving the game from then on appeared an arduous task. The two most unlikely to win South Africa the game from then were at the crease – Rassie Van der Dussen and Andile Phehlukwayo.

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What South Africa probably did not realise was that this was their best duo in the middle in such a situation. Van der Dussen, without the scars from past hurtful run-chases, and Andile ‘Lucky’ Phehlukwayo, a massive player these days for South Africa in such situations, have little in common about them.

Phehlukwayo’s case is more of potential and a future investment while Rassie van der Dussen literally knocked the selectors’ doors down with his performances in franchise cricket. He had walked into the side and slammed a 93 on debut at Port Elizabeth and appeared to belong to the big stage instantly.

Phehlukwayo has often shown a penchant for tough situations, which is probably why he is in and around the squad when he is in no way a typical South African all-rounder. Heavily built, Phehlukwayo is neither express pace nor a fearsome striker. But what he has is composure and plenty of that. A glance at his valuable knocks from the past gives an inkling of the kind of player he is.

— 42* vs Australia in a run-chase of 372 at Durban (came in with the game nearly lost, put on a century stand with Miller to take SA to a win)

— 29* vs Nz at Hamilton in a run-chase of 208 in 34 overs. SA won off the final ball. Came in at 156/6, remained unbeaten and helped them to a win.

— 29* vs NZ again at Christchurch. Chasing 290, SA were 214/8. Alongside a belligerent Dwaine Pretorius, took SA to 283 (lost by a whisker but remained unbeaten till the end).

— 23* in 11 balls against India in a rain-shortened game at Jo’burg. Smashed 3 sixes in a superb cameo to give SA their only win in the series.

— 28 vs Zim – came in at 92/6 and with Steyn (75-run stand) took them to 198 which was good enough to win them the match.

If this isn’t enough evidence of Phehlukwayo’s innate quality of standing tall amidst ruins, Tuesday gave further proof. Alongside van der Dussen, who focussed on playing with soft hands and keeping Shadab Khan’s googlies at bay, Phehlukwayo thrived. He was off the mark with a well-timed sweep off Shadab for four but took his time to play himself in.

 

His first 24 balls yielded just 13 runs but Phehlukwayo had decided his course of attack. When Hafeez came on, the all-rounder was unfazed to use the feet and stepped out to smash him over the fence twice. It was just the kind of momentum shift the South African innings needed.

Pakistan went back to Hasan Ali and Shaheen Shah Afridi instantly but Van der Dussen and Phehlukwayo knew they had no reason to hurry. They persisted playing with soft hands and kept Pakistan frustrated by stealing the odd boundary. Then Shaheen Afridi let one ball go through his hands at mid-off for four and sparked off a terrible fielding performance that further aided South Africa.

Phehlukwayo kept attacking the spinner with reverse sweeps or by stepping out. Van der Dussen attempted no daredevilry. He didn’t need to. Composed and determined, he kept his end tight and let Phehlukwayo take control, not a bit hesitant to hand over the plausible ‘hero’ tag.

As Pakistan kept making mistakes forcing Sarfaraz to comment on Phehlukwayo’s luck, albeit in a racist and discriminatory way, South Africa kept inching closer. The blossoming stand was more than just a potential match-winning one for South Africa.

They have time and again failed to hold themselves together in run-chases and at Durban, from 80/5 the stage was set for another ‘C-word’ performance. Instead, greenhorn Van der Dussen, who is increasingly looking like the missing piece in South Africa’s middle-order puzzle, and the crisis-man, as he ought to be called by now, Andile Phehlukwayo, grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and turned it around with a 127-run stand in a little over 27 overs. There were calculated risks, manipulative singles and the well-executed off-beat shots. In a stand that would go a long way in helping the individuals sealing their World Cup hopes, they showcased a South Africa that the cricketing fraternity has rarely seen – calm, collected and matured in strife.

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