South Africa won a nail-biting game against Pakistan, winning by one wicket in the crunch ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 fixture in Chennai.
It was Keshav Maharaj who held his nerve to hit the winning runs for the Proteas, who had looked well on course before losing four wickets for 25 runs with the finishing line in sight.
Pakistan pushed with all their might for the final wicket, but were unable to secure what would have been a famous victory under the Chidambaram lights.
Babar Azam (50) and Saud Shakeel (52) were the top scorers as Pakistan hit 270 in their first innings, with seven of the top eight reaching double figures.
But Tabraiz Shamsi’s four-wicket haul helped restrict the scoring rate, with Pakistan bowled out in the 47th over.
South Africa’s effort with the ball was all the more impressive given they’d been asked to bowl in sizzling temperatures and without the services of the injured Kagiso Rabada.
In the chase, Aiden Markram looked set to be steering South Africa to victory with an excellent knock, but fell to concussion substitute Usama Mir just nine runs short of his century, setting up a nervous finish to the game at the Chidambaram Stadium.
But South Africa clung on, and Maharaj’s flick to the backward square boundary got his team over the line and sparked huge celebrations.
South Africa’s big-hitting top order got away to a flier in search of their target of 271.
But Shaheen Shah Afridi ended an early flurry from Quinton de Kock (24) before Mohammad Wasim removed Temba Bavuma for 28.
And a strong third-wicket partnership came to an end when concussion substitute Usama Mir had Rassie van der Dussen out lbw for 21 to give Pakistan a chance with the score at 121/3.
The dangerous Heinrich Klaasen was next to go, removed by Wasim for just 12.
But as long as Aiden Markram was out in the middle South Africa looked in control, and the classy number four forged a handy partnership with David Miller to move the Proteas to a dominant position.
Miller’s 33-ball 29 featured two sixes and two fours before Afridi returned to keep the game alive, having the big-hitter caught behind.
Yet Marco Jansen kept the foot to the floor for South Africa as he slammed 20 from just 14 deliveries to leave South Africa needing just 36 to win when he was caught by Babar off Haris Rauf.
South Africa survived a brilliant spell from Shaheen Shah Afridi as the game came down to the wire, with only Gerald Coetzee dismissed in a period that could have sealed it.
And Afridi's fast-bowling companion Haris Rauf almost won it at the death for Pakistan.
First the pacer pulled off a stunning caught and bowled to remove Lungi Ngidi.
And then he thought he had Tabraiz Shamsi trapped lbw for the final match-winning wicket, only for the number 11 to survive thanks to umpire’s call.
But South Africa defied the description that has followed them for so long, holding their nerve to win it thanks to Maharaj.
Aggressive Pakistan hit 270
A seeming shift in mindset saw Pakistan maintain an attacking approach for much of their innings, but they struggled to get a South Africa attack away at times. And the returning South African spinner Tabraiz Shamsi put paid to a strong start, taking some key middle-order wickets to limit the innings.
Babar Azam elected to bat after winning the toss in hot and sultry conditions in Chennai, and they made two changes to the side. Hasan Ali was unwell with Mohammad Wasim Jr. coming into the team in his place, while Usama Mir was replaced by Mohammad Nawaz.
As expected, South Africa's regular skipper Temba Bavuma returned to lead the side, and he confirmed that South Africa would've also preferred to bat first in the hot conditions. Tabraiz Shamsi and Lungi Ngidi came into the team along with Bavuma, while Kagiso Rabada wasn't a part of the playing XI due to a lower back spasm.
The Proteas pacers showed early discipline and didn't bowl too many loose balls. Marco Jansen, in particular, troubled the batters with his height and left-arm angle, and he got the prized breakthrough of opener Abdullah Shafique (9) in the fifth over. The batter tried to lift a rising Jansen delivery above the square leg region but ended up finding Lungi Ngidi at backward square leg.
Babar arrived at the crease and freed his arms early on, assisted by a no-ball early on in his innings, duly dispatching the free-hit opportunity for four. Pakistan went for a number of attacking strokes thereafter and lifted the scoring rate. However, this came at the cost of Imam-ul-Haq's wicket in the seventh over. He went for a wide delivery from Jansen, and ended up giving a catch to slip.
Pakistan continued to live by the sword, with Mohammad Rizwan supplementing Babar with his aggressive strokeplay, and was given a life off his very first ball when Jansen dropped a tough return catch.
The Men in Green were sneaking in towards a scoring rate closer to six when Rizwan went for a pull against Gerald Coetzee and ended up edging one behind the wicket.
At three down, captain Babar was joined by Iftikhar Ahmed. The duo helped stabilise the innings over the next few overs. Despite some big shots from the two batters, disciplined work in the inner circle meant that they couldn't rotate the strike as often on a pitch that proved hard to score on.
The impressive Shamsi turned the screws on Pakistan with two big wickets after the 25-over mark. The spinner got rid of Iftikhar (21) in the 26th over, when the batter tried to go for a big hit and was taken brilliantly at long-on by Heinrich Klaasen.
And, a couple of overs later, a sharp review from Quinton de Kock accounted for Babar's wicket. Babar (50) tried to paddle Shamsi, but ended up gloving the ball to the keeper.
Pakistan's sixth-wicket stand between Saud Shakeel and Shadab Khan overcame these middle-over tremors, to resurrect Pakistan. And their free-flowing play allowed the run-rate to pick up.
Shakeel’s run-a-ball 52 was the top score in the innings, and injected life into a team effort that was threatening to fizzle out.
And, at the other end, returning all-rounder Shabad stroked 43 from just 36 balls.
Mohammad Nawaz chipped in with his own run-a-ball 24, but South Africa stopped things getting out of control, taking frequent wickets to bowl Pakistan out for 270.
Shamsi’s 4/60 figures were game-changing, while Marco Jansen also impressed with his 3/43 from nine. And their combined efforts under the scorching Chennai sun proved just enough on the day.