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Efficient Pakistan ease to facile win




Pakistan 207 for 4 (Farhat 56, Hafeez 54 retired) beat South Africa 202 for 9 (McLaren 55, Duminy 43, Wahab 3-30, Asad 3-30) by six wickets.

There were enough Pakistan supporters at The Oval to give the impression that this warm-up ahead of the Champions Trophy mattered, but in essence it was pointless, not just in terms of the group stages but also in the general scheme of things.

Pakistan will claim a psychological advantage after breezing to a six-wicket victory against South Africa with more than four overs to spare, they were vastly superior throughout and their supporters celebrated a well-drilled victory with their usual enthusiasm, but it will not much matter in the morning.

These sides meet again at Edgbaston in a floodlit affair in Group B in a week’s time, but if Pakistan’s comprehensive victory will ensure they will go into the match with their confidence high, it will all count for little the moment the real match begins.

AB de Villiers, not surprisingly, took such a view. With South Africa so comprehensively beaten, he would have been a fool not to. “It’s not about the result, it’s about what you get out of it. I am sure each guy will stand up when the time is right. I think Pakistan’s loss in South Africa will have affected them more than us today. That was a competitive series; this was just a warm-up game.”

South Africa beat Pakistan 3-2 in that series but it was a scratchy series victory which provided further evidence that their dominance in Test cricket is not replicated in the one-day game.

Of more concern to South Africa will be the state of Dale Steyn’s back. “It’s a bit stiff and sore – we will reassess it in the morning,” de Villiers said. Steyn departed at the end of the fifth over, clutching his side, but it could have just been that he does not like warm-ups, especially a warm-up which included his loss of a bouncer battle with Nasir Jamshed, who got two in three balls, top-edged the first one and then hooked the second over fine leg for six.

It is an odd thing that the top eight teams in the world are in England for the Champions Trophy and that some of them are practising against each other a few days before the off, but not in any sort of meaningful way, in the nonsensical “15-a-side, bat and field 11” hybrid that is gradually gaining currency as a way to provide decent practice, while quietly undermining the game in the process.

Pakistan rested arguably their two most threatening bowlers, Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Irfan and took a look at the rest of their attack. It was a shrewder move than playing all 15 and they were not complaining when they made good use of helpful bowling conditions and reduced South Africa to 83 for 7 after 22 overs.

But South Africa did field 15 and, when that happens, the best XI almost invariably get to bat. With JP Duminy coming in at No 8 and Ryan McLaren one place lower, their position was in essence stronger than it appeared. The eighth wicket added 94 in 23 overs and South Africa escaped to the sort of score that gave Pakistan some decent batting practice.

That did not scrub out Pakistan’s good memories in the field. Hashim Amla lasted only two balls before Junaid Khan had him lbw. Colin Ingram took a single to Misbah-ul-Haq which was presumably based on the Always Run To The Oldest Player In The Tournament theory, only to find that his stumps were thrown down at the non-striker’s end.

Asad Ali bowled a decent new-ball spell and finished with 3 for 30, while Wahab Riaz, who took identical figures, responded to his destruction of South Africa’s middle order – Faf du Plessis, Farhaan Behardien and David Miller within the space of four overs – by fist-pumping celebrations that he would struggle to beat were he to take wickets in the final itself.

When Pakistan batted, life continued to go swimmingly. Jamshed ran himself out carelessly, a direct hit by Amla from midwicket, but Imran Farhat batted capably, Mohammad Hafeez retired out with a half-century to his name and the most outlandish dismissal of all, suffered by Asad Shafiq, as the bowler Lonwabo Tsotsobe freakishly parried his drive to Aaron Phangiso at mid-off raised merely an eyebrow or two.

Somehow, cricket just about gets away with these low-intensity games. The warm-ups have been deliberately under-promoted so as not to devalue the real tournament, but TV still provides live coverage of this cricketing wallpaper and treats it with fake seriousness. The matches are played with a respectable level of intent and, who knows, some players might even be playing for their places, but there is no discernible tension. The game just floats by in a vaguely harmless manner.

Pakistan’s tour of Scotland and Ireland, and South Africa’s warm-up in the Netherlands were proper warm-ups, offering the chance of an upset that matters. So, too, the series between England and New Zealand. The game would have better served if other warm-up matches had taken place against the counties, offering further chance of a spot of giant-killing, but there is so much cricket in England you could not have trusted the counties to put out full-strength sides and no doubt the telly would not have liked it.

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