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CENTURION: Having conceded the series by losing the first two Twenty20 Internationals by slim margins, Pakistan will want to go all the way in the third and final match against South Africa on Wednesday.

The two games so far have been evenly contested to a large extent, but South Africa have just been able to close out games better, earning themselves a series victory.

Pakistan will feel like the least they deserve is a consolation win, and in order to do that they must continue playing the way have and hold their nerve better in the death stages.

In the first match in Cape Town, they did well enough to get within six runs of South Africa’s 192. Then in Johannesburg, they seemed in complete control in their chase of 189 after Babar Azam’s 90 and Hussain Talat’s 55, but a flurry of wickets dented their momentum and they eventually lost out by seven runs.

Pakistan batsmen’s biggest nemesis has been Andile Phehlukwayo. Using crafty, deceptive slower balls mixed up with the occasional yorker, Phehlukwayo has managed to keep the explosive Pakistan batsmen at bay. He masterfully defended 15 off the final over in the previous game, conceding just seven runs and taking a couple of wickets too.

Pakistan will need to find ways to counter that threat better. Another man they will be wary of is stand-in captain David Miller. His stunning performance in the field (four catches and two run-outs) earned him the Player of the Match in the first game. In Johannesburg, he came good with the bat, slamming an unbeaten 65 from just 29 deliveries to bolster South Africa’s score to 188-3.

Top-order batsmen like Reeza Hendricks and Rassie van der Dussen have also been among the runs, and Pakistan will look

to keep them at bay. Pakistan’s batsmen, Babar in particular, too have been in incredible form. The stylish right-hander has scored 128 from the two games at a strike-rate of 150.58.

“Two years ago when I saw him in the nets I said that he was going to be as good as [Indian captain] Virat Kohli,” said Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur about Babar after the second T20. “From a young boy back then he has developed into a man now. He has got stronger and fitter. And, I certainly think he is going to be in the top five in the world across all formats very, very soon,

The scores might suggest it’s been a batsman’s series, but the bowlers have had their say. Phehlukwayo has been exceptional, but Beuran Hendricks and Chris Morris have also been among the wickets. For Pakistan, left-arm spinner Imad Wasim has bowled very accurately, conceding just 32 runs from his eight overs at an economy rate of just four. Yet, Pakistan will want their quicks to make early inroads.

The match will draw curtains on Pakistan’s lengthy tour, and having lost the Test series and the ODI series prior to this, they will be desperate to finish off on a high to leave for home on a positive note.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2019