A wet outfield and inclement rain eventually forced an abandonment of the third ODI between Pakistan and South Africa at Port Elizabeth, meaning the series heads to Cape Town on Sunday still tied at one apiece. It was a pity, as an intriguing game lay in store after Pakistan had scored 245 for eight in one ball short of a full 50 overs on a pitch not as pleasant as many initially assumed. The rain never fully ceased after that and two hours later play was finally called off.
Both sides had reason to be pleased with the 49.5 overs; South Africa's seamers shrugged aside the horrors of their Durban drubbing, grinding out a disciplined, teutonic performance to restrict Pakistan until rain first stopped play after 47 overs. But a late, useful lower-order spurt after the break allowed Pakistan to post a competitive total, after Inzamam-ul-Haq had won the toss. Of the top men, only Inzamam's trusty batting lieutenant Mohammad Yousuf repaid the faith as Makhaya Ntini and Andrew Hall, backed up by a springy performance in the field never allowed Pakistan to fully settle.
After the happy hour run deluge of the previous two ODIs, old-fashion rates returned from the very start. Shaun Pollock and Ntini returned to their normal selves, learning quickly from their wretched short-pitchedness of the last game and bowling fuller lengths. They stunted Pakistan's start and thereafter, whenever a revival threatened, Hall and Charl Langeveldt were on hand to choke it at inception. So regimented were South Africa, they only conceded five extras and the first wide was bowled only in the 36th over.
Pollock was unlucky during a taut beginning, though Ntini duped both openers into pulling balls more full than short in his third over and within the space of three deliveries. Anything for two is a familiar situation for Younis Khan and Yousuf to greet each other in and their response was equally predictable. Both began cautiously, but by drinks, at 62 for two and strife receding, they had become increasingly expressive.
But Langeveldt and Hall, who until then had shared a one-dimensional similarity that went beyond their cropped hair and short, stocky frames, wisened up after the break. Hall found swing and Langeveldt a tight channel to explore. In a trice, things happened; Younis fell immediately after drinks, chasing, not for the first time, a very wide ball from Hall. Yousuf seemed to edge one though nobody on the field appeared to catch it. In the same over, Hall dropped Inzamam-ul-Haq in his follow-through, though no sooner had he erred than he made up for it by trapping him in his next over.
Briefly, Pakistan retorted. Yousuf continued as if this was Wednesday again, indeed as if it was still 2006. Ntini was wristily directed through midwicket, and for Langeveldt, he summoned all his grace into one compelling extra cover drive.
But the fall of wickets necessitated caution; so with Shoaib Malik, he settled into a 91-run partnership of grand sensibility. Singles came readily and boundaries not sought; Yousuf lofted Hall over mid-off and a boundary to midwicket, flipped over as if it was an egg, in the 30th over was only the tenth of the innings. The same over, he brought up a predictably elegant, unhurried fifty.
Malik, like Tammy Wynette, stood by his man, prodding and jinking his way through a utilitarian 51-ball 41. His only boundary came three balls before he was out and the value of Pakistan's allrounders was just beginning to sink in. But his dismissal sparked South Africa back into life, Hall and Ntini forming its beating heart.
Danger was persistently wiped out; Yousuf fell the next over to Ntini before Hall returned to cleverly snuff out the threat of Shahid Afridi and then an ominous partnership between Abdul Razzaq and Mahmood. After increasingly heavy rain brought a lengthy delay, Mahmood and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan managed to add a speedy 28 extra runs before the rain returned again with the solitary delivery left. How handy they might have been will never be known.