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Innings South Africa 266 for 2 (Amla 108*, van der Dussen 93)

On a slow surface more like the subcontinent than any of its South African counterparts, South Africa showcased impressive flexibility with the bat to construct a total of 266. It might be a score that used to be intimidating 15 years ago, but here in Port Elizabeth, where the average score still hovers around 230, the home side will be confident of keeping Pakistan at bay. It was Hashim Amla‘s 27th ODI century that ran like a spine through the innings, with Rassie van der Dussen keeping him excellent company on debut, scoring 93 in a 155-run partnership.

The nature of the pitch, better suited to spin than any other in South Africa, perhaps explains why Pakistan opted to go with several spinners in the side. Imad Wasim operated as early as the seventh over, while Mohammad Hafeez, Shadab Khan and Fakhar Zaman all got a bowl. It may also explain why Pakistan are yet to lose an ODI at this ground, winning all three games that produced a result.

What South Africa appeared to do exceptionally well was understand precisely what they wanted to do with the innings once the decision to bat first had been made. Preservation of wickets was a central priority, with only one lost in the first 46 overs. The strike was rotated regularly, with the bowlers not afforded the luxury of building pressure through dot balls, and the bad delivery was almost always put away. It was the way Amla, opening the batting with Reeza Hendricks, played in an opening partnership of 82, and the manner in which he and van der Dussen approached the rest of the innings.

Time will tell, but it is possible South Africa were slightly too conservative in spite of the challenges St Georges Park brings. Only a late flurry, with 76 scored off the last ten, got them close to the 300 they had seemed on track for throughout the innings. Pakistan’s bowlers made up slightly with control what they had lacked in penetration, with Shadab and Hasan Ali the picks; South Africa’s scoring rate tailed off almost precisely when the duo was introduced in the 15th over. Sarfraz Ahmed might wonder if he got his bowling order right; the decision to open with Faheem Ashraf and Usman Shinwari might have been worth trying, but persisting with it for 14 overs even as South Africa made hay could be a decision he ends up repenting.

If Amla was perceived to be out of form, none of that showed today, his full repertoire available for the viewing pleasure of the Port Elizabeth crowd. The wristwork was a delight to behold, present in almost every one of the eight boundaries throughout his innings, his ability to spot even the slightest lapse in length or availability of width exceptionally early the marker of a batsmen whose form woes are behind him. When three figures were reached, they arrived with a six over cow corner to produce the loudest cheer of the afternoon.

Van der Dussen alongside him initially appeared to have taken too much time to get himself set, but from the moment he reached his half-century with a six over midwicket, he caught up with the deliveries in quick time. The last 49 runs of his innings came in 37 balls; his first 44 had taken 64. In the end, it was a high full toss that he mistimed to mid-off that denied him a hundred. But faced with the task to scoring quickly towards the end, there was simply no time for personal indulgence.

In the four overs that remained, South Africa couldn’t quite finish with the flourish they had hoped, helped in part by an outstanding final over by Faheem Ashraf, who otherwise endured a somewhat frustrating day. Even so, it meant South Africa finished well above the average score for the ground, but given Pakistan will be more familiar than the hosts with conditions like these, their bowlers will thank them for every single one of those runs.

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