Shabnim Ismail, Diana Baig shine as South Africa steal a thrilling win

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Shabnim Ismail, Diana Baig shine as South Africa steal a thrilling win
Coming from a hiatus of nine months, South Africa and Pakistan started the One Day International series with a nail-biting thriller. Nadine de Klerk held her nerves in the last over to ensure a three-run victory despite an all-round performance from Diana Baig and a half-century from Nida Dar that ended in vain on Wednesday (January 20).

Having chased a total more than 200 successfully only thrice in the past, Pakistan lost Muneeba Ali to Shabnim Ismail early. The right-arm pacer, who is coming from the highs of Women's Big Bash League and Women's Super League performances, came around the wicket to get rid of the left-hander.

It did not get any better when Nahida Khan was run out for a 19-ball 14 by a sharp throw from Ismail. Their skipper Javeria Khan and Omaima Sohail tried to rebuild.

However, they added only 19 runs together before Javeria was dismissed by debutant Nonkululeko Mlaba for five from eleven balls. Joined by Dar, Sohail put together a partnership to revive the innings.

Although Sohail was rotating the strike and scoring boundaries off bad balls here and there, Dar was stuck at the other end. She scored only one run in the first 20 balls she faced. It did not help when Sohail was run out due to a misunderstanding between them for 37 from 67 balls.

Pakistan were struggling at 71 for four after 24 overs, and Dar was batting at six off 37 balls at that moment. Nawaz fell shortly after to Tumi Sekhukhune for one from 12 balls. She was adjudged LBW when it seemed like the ball was going down the leg side.

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Aliya Riaz joined Dar in the middle and showed positive intent right from the first delivery. She smashed Luus over mid-wicket for a boundary and hit Nadine de Klerk for a four and six down the ground.

With Dar, she added 51 runs for the sixth wicket, When it looked like Pakistan was getting back in the chase, Luus called back her strike bowler Ismail to break the partnership. And Ismail delivered.

Ismail castled the stumps of Riaz and Fatima Sana off successive deliveries. Riaz managed to score 28 runs from 48 balls before getting outdone by Ismail.

When de Klerk dismissed Sandhu in the 41st over, Dar was left stranded at the other end. She was batting at 35 from 71 balls. Baig, who had already done her part with the ball, now had to contribute with the bat along with Dar in what looked like a tough chase.

They needed 64 runs to win from 56 balls. Dar opened up and tried to play some big shots while Baig was rotating the strike consistently. With 33 runs required three overs, Baig hit boundaries off Sekhukhune and Ismail to take the game closer. South African fielders dropping catches and fumbling in the field did not help their cause.

De Klerk had 12 runs to defend in the final over. Dar scooped her behind the keeper for three and Baig sliced her over point for a two. Pakistan needed eight to win in the last two deliveries, and Baig smashed a boundary off the penultimate ball. However, she could not connect the final delivery, and South Africa won by three runs. Baig scored 35 from 34 balls, while Dar remained not out on 59 from 93 deliveries.

Earlier, after having asked to bat, the hosts were off to a horror start as Baig dismissed Lizelle Lee in the very first over. Playing her first match in the country, Baig was steaming in and moving the ball around. She troubled Luus through her second over before castling her middle-stump with an inswinger in her third. South Africa had lost Lee and Luus by the end of the fifth over.

Diana Baig Diana Baig celebrates picking up a wicket. © Getty Images

The onus was now on Laura Wolvaardt and Lara Goodall to build a partnership and steady the innings. They saw through the opening spell of Baig and Sana without any further wickets. In the process, they picked up a few boundaries whenever the bowlers tried to overcompensate with their lengths.

When the spinner came on, the boundaries dried up. Wolvaardt and Goodall had to keep the scoreboard moving with singles and doubles. Between overs 10 and 21, the duo added 38 runs without scoring a boundary.

By that time they had 61 runs together, and Goodall decided to accelerate by going after the left-arm spinner Nashra Sandhu. She tried to sweep a delivery that was too full and was bowled for 27 from 54 balls. Things got worse for the hosts when Wolvaardt got out courtesy to a direct hit from Baig. She fell ten runs short of her half-century.

With two new batters at the crease, the Pakistan spinners strangled the scoring rate of South Arica. In the next nine overs, they gave away only 20 runs. The two experienced campaigners Mignon du Preez and Marizanne Kapp were happy to take the game deep.

In the 36th over, Kapp hit Sana for three boundaries and followed it up with another against Baig. Kapp and du Preez added 64 runs for the fifth wicket before the latter was stumped for a 61-ball 29. Meanwhile, Kapp kept the innings going at the other end with boundaries off Baig and Sandhu.

However, she too, was stumped by Sidra Nawaz off Nida Dar for 47 from 59 balls. Baig picked up her third wicket in the match as she dived full length on her follow-through and caught de Klerk's uppish drive. South Africa scraped their way to 200 for nine by the end of the innings.

Baig was the pick of the bowlers for Pakistan with three wickets and a run-out where she could have four, if not for the dropped chances.

In the build-up to the series, the talk was about how the conditions might be favourable for spinners. Although it did help the spinners, it was the two relentless pacers - Ismail and Baig - who set the tone for the rest of the series.

Brief Scores:

South Africa: 200/9 in 50 overs (Marizanne Kapp 47, Laura Wolvaardt 40; Diana Baig 3/46) beat Pakistan: 197/8 in 50 overs (Nida Dar 54, Omaima Sohail 37; Shabnim Ismail 3/42) by 3 runs