ACCORDING TO the hype, this was a dress rehearsal for the World Cup final and one that would be settled by the fastest gun. But if the speed trial by the Trent between Shoaib Akhtar and Allan Donald was won by the Pakistani, who clocked 95mph, it was the heavy bat of Lance Klusener which settled a tense match and won South Africa their first two points of the Super Sixes.
More than that, Klusener's clean striking caused old faults to resurface and, long before the final blow, Pakistan had begun to bicker among themselves in an action replay of the recent past. Afterwards, in a post- match interview with BBC television, the Pakistan captain, Wasim Akram, left no one in any doubt who was to blame. Shoaib, he felt, had bowled too short at the death, a situation that had demanded yorkers.
Wasim is right, but it does not do anyone of Shoaib's inexperience and thoroughbred temperament much good to receive a dressing down in public.
As captain and death bowler himself, Wasim knows how difficult it is to hold your nerve in the final overs of a big game and he should know better. Mind you, he looked wound up throughout the South African innings and it was later revealed that his diabetes had been troubling him throughout the day. Blood sugar levels are not something most captains need contemplate, and the spectre of them perhaps contributed to the two mistakes that probably cost Pakistan the game.
The first, a tactical error by Wasim, came when South Africa were 58 for 5 and Shaun Pollock had just joined Jacques Kallis at the crease. Instead of recalling Shoaib to finish them off, the skipper was content to bowl out his medium-pacer, Abdul Razzaq. The decision allowed Pollock to settle and the pair added 77 for the sixth wicket, a platform crucial to Klusener's later deeds of daring-do.
Wasim's other mistake was one of body language and came when the umpires decided to change the ball in the 44th over. Although it was swapped because it had become dirty and more difficult for the batsmen to pick up in the fading light, Pakistan need the old ball to help their end-game strategy, which is based on reverse swing.
Because it takes time to get a ball to do this legally - one side has to become naturally worn while the other is kept smooth and damp by the players - Pakistan were reluctant to allow the ball to be changed for a whiter one that has not been worked on.
Even so, considering South Africa were 175 for 6, and still needing 46 runs from 35 balls to win, Wasim's protestations were over the top. Instead of calming his bowlers, the captain's actions fed their paranoia, which is why Shoaib, testosterone now flooding the system, opted to blast them out with fast bowling machismo rather than seek victory through percentages.
Earlier, Shoaib's impressive new-ball spell had seen off both Herschelle Gibbs and Hansie Cronje without a murmur. Not so his second, and Klusener, instead of being cramped for room by toe-crushing yorkers, was given the freedom to pull a six and a four as 17 precious runs came from the over. After a shot in the arm like that, South Africa's momentum and belief became unstoppable.
Klusener is an uncomplicated fellow whose talent for battering a five- and-a-half ounce leather ball, irrespective of colour, is beginning to get him rave notices. If it looks primitive alongside Daryll Cullinan or Jacques Kallis, the art is in choosing the shot to suit the ball, and his unbeaten 46 from 41 balls was made when the pressure on his team would have crushed less sturdy bulkheads.
There have always been effective sloggers but they nearly always get their come-uppance once bowlers have worked them out. Klusener, on the other hand, with his brand new 3lb 2oz bat, and his fast baseball-like release of the hands, has just broken Javed Miandad's world record of 395 one-day runs without being dismissed.
Stylistically, the two could not be further apart, and Javed rarely played a slog until he was past 50. Where the pair coincide is in their assessment of risk.
It was also risk, this time calculated by Moin Khan, that helped Pakistan make a game of it in the first place, after they had won the toss and batted. Batting at seven, one higher in the order than Klusener, Moin arrived at the crease following the first of three run-outs. If it would surprise no one to hear that the victim was the ambling Inzamam-ul-Haq (the 30th time he has been run out in one-day internationals) it may shock them to know that it was, first, not his fault and, secondly, that he would have been in had he grounded his bat.
After a period of playing (and missing) himself in, Moin cut loose in exhilarating fashion. With a low centre of gravity and strong, dextrous squash player's wrists, Moin scooped, flicked and thrashed Donald to distraction in a series of imaginatively conceived and superbly executed strokes. One swept six off Donald was so deft and sure that the fast bowler did not even deliver his trademark glare.
With Moin's 63 helping to give Pakistan a decent total, it looked as if flair had once again routed dogged efficiency. But South Africa have a depth and belief to their team which is difficult to intimidate. Should these teams meet again, it is better that errors are made now rather than later when the stakes will be that much higher.Reuse content