At a time when the vast majority of people have not seen others regularly, one person has overstayed his welcome over the last three months from the South African point of view. With two hundreds, two fifties, and two forties in nine innings, and a T20I average of 135.50 in 2021, Mohammad Rizwan has been ever-present, and shows no signs of having had his fill.
It was Rizwan, who scored 115* to set South Africa a target of 370 in the Rawalpindi Test, which Pakistan won by 95 runs. It was Rizwan, who blitzed his way to a first T20I hundred to set up a three-run win in the first match in Lahore. And though South Africa kept him quiet in the ODIs, today, it was Rizwan’s 74* off 50 balls that helped Pakistan to their highest successful T20I run chase.
This time, he got a little lucky upfront. He was dropped in the second over when he hadn’t yet scored, when George Linde put down a difficult return catch.
Then, he got luckier and was gifted deliveries in his scoring zone. Sisanda Magala, on debut, began by angling the ball down the leg side, where, later, South Africa captain Heinrich Klaasen noted Rizwan likes getting the ball. “He hits in a different angle to a normal power-hitter, so, for us, it’s to stay out of his hitting zone, which is quite a lot on the leg side,” Klaasen said.
Rizwan scored 58 of his 74 runs on the leg side, including both his sixes and seven of his nine fours. He took advantage of any delivery that was angled in from off stump and he did not seem to be rushed in his approach at any stage.
To start with, though, Rizwan had decided he could give himself a sighter, something he picked up after watching Fakhar Zaman score 193 in the second ODI at this ground. “It was a bit of a tricky track in the second innings. Fakhar’s ODI innings was on my mind today, on how to play on this surface by taking some time early on,” he said.
“He has been fighting hard to get back into this white-ball side. In the one-day series, he needed a few runs just to kick on and not get out after good starts. Today, he got that”
Heinrich Klaasen on Aiden Markram
His first eight balls brought just four runs before he cleared the front leg to hit another newcomer, Lizaad Williams, over long-on for four. It was another five balls before he found the rope again and continued to pace his innings to meet the situation. Rizwan stayed calm even when Babar Azam was dismissed in the powerplay, and when the required run-rate climbed to over ten an over. He left Zaman to take on Linde, before doing so himself after the halfway mark. Even when Mohammad Hafeez was stumped off Tabraiz Shamsi, and Pakistan needed 79 runs off 41 balls, Rizwan believed they were still in it. “International cricket is always about pressure,” he said. “The message was coming from the dugout to keep going and I knew that we have power-hitters in the middle order for the last overs.”
While South Africa scored just 37 runs off the last five overs. Pakistan needed 57 runs in the same period. Beuran Hendricks started that quarter of the innings with two wickets in two balls. But then, he lost his lengths completely and bowled four full-tosses in a row at the start of the 18th over for Rizwan to crack the chase. From off stump, he drove Hendricks over mid-off, midwicket and behind square to score 14 runs off the first three balls and leave the rest of the death bowlers with too much to do.
In the end, South Africa might ask themselves if Hendricks was the right choice to use so close to the end of the innings, especially as Klaasen acknowledged there were probably other candidates: “Magala and Lizaad are two probably our two best yorker bowlers.”
Magala bowled the penultimate over and Williams the final one, but Magala had an over in hand and Andile Phehlukwayo, who has been used at the death in ODIs, had two. The problem for Klaasen was not the personnel or the plans. “We just need to execute,” he said.
While there are gaps between the talk and the walk, South Africa need not be too hard on themselves. They are playing with second – and in some cases, third – choice players thanks to the IPL and injuries, and they still managed to be competitive. There are selection questions – such as why Kyle Verreynne didn’t play in this game – but there are also experiments which are slowly starting to work. Like Aiden Markram.
This is only the fourth time in his last 11 international innings that Markram has gone past 39 and he played with a freedom that has been lacking previously, particularly in the one-day series. There, Markram looked like a million dollars but found ways of getting out just as he got in. Here, he got in and made it count. He pierced the off side in front of and behind square with drives off the front and back foot, and would be disappointed that he didn’t bat through the second half of the innings.
But he has made a statement about his attempt to belong. “He has been fighting hard to get back into this white-ball side,” Klaasen said. “In the one-day series, he needed a few runs just to kick on and not get out after good starts. Today, he got that.”
Similarly, this was Klaasen’s first international score of over 17 this summer, and first since his difficult journey through Covid-19. Klaasen has been burdened with captaining the depleted T20I side in two series and so perhaps it should not be surprising that he hasn’t been able to build on his Player-of-the-Series performances against Australia last year. In this match, Klaasen showed some authority, with 50 off 24 balls, with four sixes, three of them off short balls that he sent over the leg side. Interesting angles, maybe.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent