Mohammad Rizwan's ton edges out Proteas in first T20
CAPE TOWN - Mohammad Rizwan would not be most team's first choice T20 opener. In fact, his T20 franchise, the Karachi Kings, deemed him surplus to requirements in the Pakistan Super League.
But yet Pakistan, in all their conventional unconventionality, entrusted him to replace the World's No 2 T20 batsman and their captain Babar Azam at the top of the order for the last series against New Zealand.
It is a decision that has reaped rewards that not even the most loyal Rizwan supporter could have imagined. In Pakistan's last T20 prior to this South African series, he masterminded a brilliant run-chase with a career best 89 off 59 balls against the Black Caps.
A short while ago he raised the bar even further with a match-winning 104 not out off just 64 balls, following on from his maiden Test ton last week.
The early loss of the returning Azam for a duck to a brilliant run out by Bjorn Fortuin off his own bowling did not deter him.
He remained unflustered and comfortable in his approach to T20 cricket, which doesn't comprise of attacking the Powerplay when the fielding restrictions are in place. Instead he gauges the pace of the wicket and stays calm - even when he had just 31 off 30 balls at the halfway stage of Pakistan's innings.
He backs himself to catch up in the second half and it was evident in the fact that he required just a further 33 balls to reach three figures, achieved with his seventh six of the innings.
South Africa had chances to dismiss Rizwan, but this was only once he had reached the 90s with Junior Dala spilling a catch in the outfield.
Dala's miss was actually something of a surprise for the Proteas had up until that point turned in their best fielding performance since arriving in Pakistan.
The youngsters that had flown in from South Africa infused the team with fresh energy and passion.
It filtered through to the batting unit with Janneman Malan (44 off 29 balls, 8x4, 1x6) racing out of the blocks. In complete contrast to Rizwan, the Cape Cobras star targeted the Powerplay and was severe on anything short offered up by Pakistan seam bowlers. Malan was particularly harsh on Haris Rauf with the right-hander smashing four consecutive boundaries in the fifth over.
However, South Africa's real test was always going to be how they dealt with Pakistan's spinners. And once again it proved to be their Achilles heel.
Leg-spinner Usman Qadir - son of the legendary Pakistan tweaker Abdul Qadir - could easily have followed in Imran Tahir's footsteps by representing South Africa instead of the country of his birth having spent many seasons playing for Primrose Cricket Club in Cape Town during the early years of career, but ultimately opted to return home via Australia when he was not granted any opportunities at franchise level.
Qadir certainly showed South Africa what they missed out on by completely bamboozling both Malan and Proteas T20I debutant Jacques Snyman in an impressive first spell.
Reeza Hendricks tried to match Rizwan with a fighting half-century, but ultimately could not accelerate in the latter part of his innings like the little Pakistani wicket-keeper, which ultimately left too much for the all-rounders Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius and Fortuin to catch up on at the death.