While South Africa have been open about their intention to use this series for experimenting ahead of the World Cup, Pakistan were decidedly more conservative in their selection. The hosts rested key players like Quinton de Kock and Dale Steyn for the first two ODIs and the on-fire Duanne Olivier for the last three. That afforded debuts to Beuran Hendricks and Rassie van der Dussen, in addition to providing games to irregulars such as Dane Paterson and Dwaine Pretorius. Pakistan, meanwhile, stuck with the squad that, more or less, will go to the World Cup in England, making the odd change dependent on the conditions each particular pitch threw up.
The first truly radical alteration in Johannesburg ended up being forced on them, with Sarfraz Ahmed’s ban seeing him out of the tour altogether. Under Shoaib Malik’s stewardship, they turned in the most complete performance of the tour, trouncing South Africa by eight wickets on Pink Day, putting paid to the hosts’ unbeaten record when clad in that resplendent hue. It seemed like the team was bubbling with a fresher energy in the absence of a hands-on captain like Sarfraz, with Malik evidently more laissez-faire in handling his men.
The stakes in the deciding game are higher now, with Pakistan looking to come away with a series win against South Africa that seemed a long shot given the side’s ordinary year in ODIs in 2018. They are, despite their regular captain’s absence, significantly more settled than their South African counterparts, with both batting and bowling departments beginning to click as the series has progressed.
South Africa’s batsmen have, in patches, looked good without quite appearing the world-class force Faf du Plessis will want them to be, while the numerous personnel changes almost every game give the impression of a side in flux rather than one showcasing its bench strength. It has been difficult to assess the hosts this series, with their objectives going into it a little hazier than Pakistan’s. It’s fair to question whether South Africa consider winning this series an important goal in itself as opposed to viewing it as a warm-up ahead of the World Cup, with both coach Otis Gibson and captain du Plessis looking ahead to it in nearly every press conference. In any case, a home series loss is unlikely to go down as good preparation, so the final ODI in Cape Town may produce a contest with greater intensity than any of the previous four so far.
South Africa LWWLW
In the spotlight
Having started his career at No. 7, David Miller has, for good reason, nailed down the No. 5 slot in the ODI side. He came into this series in form, smashing a barnstorming 139 against Australia in November. He is an amalgamation of a number of attractive qualities all rolled into one. But his signature trait – the sheer devastation he can wreak with bat in hand without seeming to take on the risks associated with big hitters of similar reputation – has not been on show. Pakistan are an opponent he’s found difficult to handle for much of his ODI career, his average against them dropping from a career 38.25 to just over 25, with his strike-rate taking a similar hit – 101.76 to 77.36. Whether Pakistan can continue to maintain that hold on one of the world’s most explosive batsmen may contain the key to the outcome of the series.
Mohammad Rizwan finally got an international game after two years in Johannesburg, thanks to Sarfraz’s absence. While he didn’t get much of a chance to show his abilities with the bat, his glovework did come in for praise from several quarters. He was reliably secure behind the stumps to both spinners and quicks, and as blemish free as he might have hoped. A brilliant diving catch down legside to remove Reeza Hendricks was perhaps the highlight of his day, though a boundary dispatched through point off the only ball he faced to seal Pakistan’s victory might have come close. With Rizwan in famously good form ahead of this tour, he has this narrow window of opportunity over the next four games to push his case. Who knows when he might get to play another ODI, so why not make the series decider a memorable one?
South Africa have called up Wiaan Mulder, who scored 146 in a Man-of-the-Match winning display for the Lions against the Knights in Bloemfontein, to the squad for the fifth ODI. The 20-year old allrounder has also recently enjoyed good form with the ball, and will be looking for a more successful international outing than he enjoyed against Sri Lanka last year.
South Africa (possible): Quinton de Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, Rassie van der Dussen, Faf du Plessis (capt), David Miller, Reeza Hendricks, Andile Phehlukwayo/Wiaan Mulder, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Beuran Hendricks, Imran Tahir
After the performance in Johannesburg, it would be tempting to let the same bunch of players go out again. Form continues to elude Fakhar Zaman, but Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur a big fan of his talents, he is expected to start once more.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Fakhar Zaman 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Babar Azam, 5 Shoaib Malik (capt) 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 7 Shadab Khan 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Mohammad Amir, 10 Usman Shinwari, 11 Shaheen Afridi
Pitch and conditions
This won’t be the kind of surface that allowed South Africa to play an all-seam attack in the Test earlier this month, with both captains confident of batting-friendly conditions. Newlands has traditionally had something in it for the spinners, and with the last few days seeing unusually high temperatures, the extra aridity could give the slower bowlers an added layer of menace.
Stats and trivia
- There are a number of imminent milestones for South Africa’s bowlers. Dale Steyn sits just wickets short of 200, Kagiso Rabada is three shy of 100, while one more scalp for Andile Phehlukwayo would take him to 50.
- Sarfraz Ahmed played every single match across all formats since 26 January 2017, when he sat out of the fifth ODI in a bilateral series against Australia. His next absence, the fourth ODI in Johannesburg, came two years and a day later, on 27 January 2019.
- Mohammad Amir last bowled a full ten overs in ODI cricket against Sri Lanka in Cardiff in the group stages of the 2017 Champions Trophy. In the 13 matches he’s played since, he has bowled nine overs just twice.
“It’s a big game but it’s important we don’t make it bigger than it already is. When we make it a big thing, we possibly don’t bring the best out of ourselves as a team”
Faf du Plessis believes South Africa don’t need to put any extra pressure on themselves
“We’re trying to give opportunities to those players who we think are going to participate in the World Cup. Playing some cricket in South Africa against a good side is a great opportunities”
Shoaib Malik reveals the World Cup isn’t far from anyone’s mind as they approach the final
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.