South Africa’s last-gasp win over Pakistan was a reminder to even the most blasé of cricket writers of why we love this game.
The Proteas—tournament dark horses—were cruising for three-quarters of this match against underdogs Pakistan to then all but choke as the nerves took hold, only to snatch back victory when all seemed lost.
The fastest bowler in the women’s game, Shabnim Ismail, was ultimately the match-winner, but with bat rather than ball in hand, thumping three boundaries in the penultimate over to see her side home with six balls to spare.
But in truth there were heroines on both sides in a game which had players and spectators alike catching their breath.
For South Africa, Moseline Daniels outshone her more high-profile pace partners Ismail and Marizanne Kapp, while Laura Woolvaardt and Lizelle Lee got their side well en route to a modest target before the drama unfolded.
Pakistan had their own stars, Nahida Khan producing an ODI career-best 79 with the bat and skipper Sana Mir producing some beguiling spin to so nearly snatch a famous win for her side, outplayed by South Africa the last time the sides met in Sri Lanka.
Nahida lost opening partner Ayesha Zafar early on and then watched from the other end as Javeria Wadood had her off-stump uprooted by an in-swinger from Daniels.
Her dismissal left Javeria still 24 runs short of 2000 ODI runs.
In response, 30-year-old right-hander Nahida was completely becalmed at first taking 22 overs to score as many runs as the Proteas’ fast-bowling battery of Ismail, Kapp, Ayabonga Khaka and Daniels, complimented by the miserly spin of skipper Dane Van Niekerk dictated terms.
Left-armer Daniels (2-21) was the stand-out, her combination of good rhythm, swing and a hint of nip making it nigh on impossible for the Pakistan batters to pierce the tight infield.
Van Niekerk decision to employ a sixth and seventh bowler in the shape of Chloe Tryon and Sune Luus, briefly released the stranglehold, though the former was unlucky to have Nahida dropped by Khakar at long leg on 26.
The opener made the most of the reprieve, accelerating to 50 from 75 balls courtesy of a seventh four, while sharing a stand of 63 with Syeda Abibi (27).
Attempts at improvisation failed her, but more boundaries followed, the pick seeing Nahida deposit Ismail back over her head for six, before carving the very next ball wide of third man for four.
Pride bruised Ismail extracted revenge soon afterwards a low flat throw from deep mid-off running out Nahida as she attempted a second run.
When Kainat Imtiaz drove Daniels into the hands of Kapp at mid-wicket 15 balls later a collapse appeared imminent, but cameos from Asmavia Iqbal Khokar (27) and skipper Mir (15) in a seventh-wicket stand of 43 raised 206.
Nevertheless, it didn’t look a score likely to challenge South Africa, particularly after Lizelle Lee and Laura Woolvaardt climbed into the Pakistan bowling in the early overs of their reply, 34 coming off the first five overs of powerplay.
Lee hoisted two huge sixes and was first to 50, courtesy of her eighth four, though there was a slice of luck attached, the deep mid-off fielder spilling a skier over the boundary.
Another maximum followed before she unexpectedly perished for 60 trapped leg before trying to sweep the nagging, accurate spin of Mir, but by then the Proteas were passed 100.
Woolvaardt looked even more comfortable, if a touch less belligerent, driving off the front foot and reaching her half century from 81 balls with five fours.
She too though failed to kick on run out by Zafar’s throw from mid-wicket for 52, having raced down the pitch for a second only to realise partner Trisha Chetty was leaning on her bat, not entertaining thoughts of doubling up.
The run-out sent panic spreading through South African ranks. Runs slowed to a trickle and in an attempt to break the shackles Chetty drove Bismah Maroof straight to Javeria at cover.
South Africa were well and truly wobbling now, Javeria taking centre stage once more to run out Kapp with a direct hit.
With 61 wanted from 14 The Proteas still looked good for the chase, but Tryon ugly heave saw her stumps spread-eagled by Sadia Yousaf and more suicidal running meant Van Niekerk was soon heading back to the pavilion too.
Mignon Du Preez had stood firm throughout the carnage, but nerves got the better of her too she hoisted Yousaf to the hands of Iqbal in the deep.
From nowhere Pakistan scented a famous win and though Sune Luus and Ismail crept closer the run rate kept climbing.
With 16 needed off two South Africa, needed one more hero.
Step forward Ismail with an inside-out shot through cover followed by two hard-run twos.
Another boundary brought them within four of victory, but with Mir poised to bowl the last over more bravery was needed from the final ball of the penultimate over.
A deep breath and a big swing saw the ball clubbed straight down the ground and though two fielders converged they couldn’t pull it in and to huge sighs of relief South Africa were home.
Ultimately, we learned that South Africa can explode and implode almost in equal measure while Pakistan are getting better: England beware.