JOHANNESBURG -I ncessant rains put paid to Pakistan’s plans of defending a fine total in the previous game, and they now face a do-or-die situation in the fourth ODI in Johannesburg today (Sunday) with South Africa already leading 2-1.

South Africa have clawed back from 1-0 down to being within a victory from claiming the series with a match to spare. It could well have been 2-1 to Pakistan, though, had rain not intervened. Pakistan posted 317/6 in the third ODI – a fine effort, given they were bundled out for 203 in the previous match – and had an opening by reducing South Africa to 79/2. But rain arrived, forced a delay of up to an hour first, and on resumption, Reeza Hendricks scored an unbeaten 83* in a 108-run stand with Faf du Plessis to ensure South Africa were ahead of the DLS par score, finishing on 187/2 in 33 overs.

Despite the loss, Pakistan can take heart from the performance. There was a century from Imam-ul-Haq, half-centuries from Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez, and strong hands from Shoaib Malik and Imad Wasim. This, despite Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada bowling economical spells and taking two wickets each.

Pakistan will want more of the same in Johannesburg. And the performance will certainly buoy them. The question is, can South Africa stop them once again? The home side showed plenty of grit to come away with victory, despite facing a tricky total. Particularly pleasing for South Africa will be the displays put in by the middle order over the last two matches – it was Rassie van der Dussen and Andile Phehlukwayo in Durban, and Hendricks and du Plessis at Centurion.

Their bowlers – Phehlukwayo and Tabraiz Shamsi in particular – were taken to the cleaners by the Pakistan batsmen in the third ODI, but impressed in the first two matches. South Africa will be hoping all departments can come together in tandem in Johannesburg and seal what has been a hard-fought series.

Pakistan put up a hugely improved batting performance in the third ODI, and that was triggered by Imam-ul-Haq. He held the innings together with his 116-ball 101, his fifth ODI ton, and made clear what had spurred him: “To all the people who criticised me over the years, the media and the people, I want to thank them. This has been possible because of them,” he said. Pakistan will hope the spark continues.

Early wickets are key against Pakistan. Dale Steyn, playing his first ODI in over two months, snared a brace at the Centurion, including a delicious slower ball to deceive Babar Azam. He was South Africa’s most economical bowler as well. The legend is gradually returning to his lofty standards, and that’s good news for South Africa on a World Cup year.

The axe might finally fall on Fakhar Zaman, who has 53 runs in three ODIs on the tour, and he will pave way for Shan Masood. With Mohammad Amir and Imad Wasim doing the job, it is unlikely that Pakistan will look to bring back either of their bowling all-rounders in Faheem Ashraf or Hussain Talat.

South Africa’s rich pace stocks provide their coach Ottis Gibson the leisure of rotating the bowlers. And, each of them has been equally impressive when handed the ball at the international stage. They don’t need to tinker much with their playing XI. But, their need to find the right combination ahead of the all-important World Cup might induce some changes. Rain is, unfortunately, forecast in Johannesburg, and could once again play spoilsport come Sunday, making the toss crucial.

PAKISTAN: Sarfaraz Ahmed(c), Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Hussain Talat, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Rizwan, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Shan Masood, Shoaib Malik, Usman Khan.

SOUTH AFRICA: Faf du Plessis(c), Hashim Amla, Reeza Hendricks, Imran Tahir, Quinton de Kock, David Miller, Beuran Hendricks, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, Dale Steyn.