A last-wicket stand between Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi condemned Pakistan to their fourth defeat in a row, their worst run in World Cup history. However, it was a vastly more spirited showing than they produced in their previous match in Chennai, against Afghanistan last week, let alone their seven-wicket loss to India in Ahmedabad two weeks ago.
The defeat does not mean that Pakistan are out of the running for a place in the semi-finals. However, the post-mortem on their campaign looks to be underway already.
In the wake of the Afghanistan loss, the PCB issued a press release “addressing the media scrutiny directed at captain Babar Azam and the team management”, in which it stated that “the board would make decisions in the best interests of Pakistan cricket based on the team’s performances in the World Cup.”
Speaking after the South Africa loss, however, Arthur replied: “They’re going to be blaming everybody, don’t worry. It’s just the way of the world.
“It’s really unfair to start a witch-hunt, certainly on Babar Azam, on Inzi [chief selector, Inzamam-ul-Haq], on our coaches, on the management team,” he added. “What I do know is the boys have tried and the effort of the coaching staff, the effort of the players has been first-class. If they would see that the amount of effort that the players and staff put in, they would be amazed.”
That effort was plain in the closing stages of the contest at Chepauk, by a distance the most compelling finish at this year’s World Cup. After posting a competitive but below-par target of 271, Pakistan claimed five wickets for 54 in the space of 12.3 overs to leave South Africa floundering at 260 for 9, before they grafted their way over the line with 16 balls to spare.
“Tonight, I thought was our best bowling performance of the competition,” Arthur said. “I thought we bowled really well, but I still thought we were under-par in terms of the runs that we had. We haven’t put the perfect game together yet. It hasn’t been for lack of effort, hasn’t been for lack of trying, but we just haven’t got enough players in form at the minute, particularly with the bat.
Mickey Arthur praised Pakistan’s best bowling performance of the tournament despite their agonising loss•ICC/Getty Images
“Tonight is a totally different feeling in that dressing-room to the Afghanistan game,” he added, after their eight-wicket loss at the same venue on Monday. “The Afghanistan game, we were average in all departments. Tonight, we were okay with the bat, I thought we were very good with the ball. And tonight, I’m really proud of those [players] because they fought right to the bitter end.”
Pakistan currently have four points from six games following their opening victories over the Netherlands and Sri Lanka. But, with other contenders for the top four also struggling for their best form, including Australia – who play third-placed New Zealand on Saturday – they are still in sixth place, just two points adrift of the semi-final places.
“You never know,” Arthur said of their lingering knock-out hopes. “What I do know is that we need to go and assess combinations again, we need to have a look at the holes we have within our team. We need to start improving in a lot of areas and we’ve got to go home and finish this tournament with three victories. That’s what I do know. Every day we’ll be trying and we’ll be striving to do that.”
Arthur had been outspoken about the atmosphere within the stadium during Pakistan’s defeat against India in Ahmedabad, complaining that the overwhelming support for the home team made it feel like a “BCCI event and not a World Cup”. However, he had nothing but praise for a passionate and fair-minded Chennai crowd, whose enthusiasm was rewarded with the most compelling contest of the tournament to date.
“Yeah, the crowd was outstanding tonight,” he said. “It was really good. Take the results out of the way, Chennai has been outstanding. Training facilities, everything has been brilliant. And the crowd tonight was fantastic. And I think at least we’ve given the World Cup the close finish that it needed to kick-start it on. It’s just a pity we were on the wrong side of that.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket