CENTURION: South Africa may have been left depleted with the exodus of first-choice players in their Twenty20 series against Pakistan, but they still are in with a chance of sharing honours if they win the fourth international in Centurion on Friday.
A sublime century from the redoubtable Babar Azan inspired Pakistan to a crushing nine-wicket victory in the lopsided third game here at the SuperSport Park on Wednesday. The Pakistan captain’s record-breaking knock of 122 — the 26-year-old right right-hander’s maiden Twenty20 International century — overshadowed South Africa’s good day with the willow, with openers Janneman Malan (55) and Aiden Markram (63) putting on 108 during their excellent stand, but sloppy fielding and inconsistency with the ball cost them the match.
Babar and Mohammad Rizwan (73 not out) shared a record Pakistan first-wicket partnership of 197. The only flaw in a dazzling batting display by the Pakistan captain was when he was dismissed with only seven runs needed, nudging an attempted ramp shot off seamer Lizaad Williams to South Africa skipper Heinrich Klaasen behind the timbers.
Pakistan, therefore, will go in as the favourites in the fourth and final fixture as they carry the winning momentum and positives from all departments. The Pakistani bowlers were able to bounce back strongly at the death that restricted the Proteas as they fell 10-15 runs short on a track where a score of 200 seemed achievable while batting second.
“We are going into the last match of the series with a positive mind set. We will carry the winning momentum and the form to the next match but it is equally important that we rectify the mistakes and win the series,” Babar said on eve of the last game of the South Africa before the touring side travel to Zimbabwe for three more T20s and two Tests.
Babar —who toppled Virat Kohli as the top-ranked ODI batsman after the Indian maestro occupied the No.1 slot for 41 months — was delighted with his wonderful exhibition in Wednesday’s encounter and credited Rizwan to express himself with a free mind as he eclipsed his previous best T20 International score of 97 not out versus West Indies at Karachi in April 2018.
Babar also made the highest individual score by a Pakistan batsman, beating 111 not out by Ahmed Shehzad against Bangladesh in Dhaka in 2014. it continued a run of outstanding form by Babar in Centurion after he hit 103 and 94 in two One-day Internationals earlier in the tour.
“They [Babar and Rizwan] batted really well, they made a lot of good balls look bad,” said Klaasen. “May be we lost a bit of momentum at the end. We tried a lot of things but our display in the field was poor.
“The one thing we are guilty of over the last three games is that not one of our batters that scored a fifty, went on to make a big one. Pakistan has done that really well especially on such wickets to capitalise at the end and we will look to do that come Friday.”