South Africa owed its total to Wayne Parnell's (56) maiden half century, after Saeed Ajmal (4-30) and Shahid Afridi (3-37) had reduced the Proteas to 129-8. South Africa's Lahore-born leg spinner Imran Tahir grabbed 3-45 as the Proteas defeated Pakistan by one-run in a thrilling opener to their one-day international series. Chasing South Africa's total of 183, Pakistan reached 165-4 before a sensational collapse saw it bowled out for 182 with more than three overs to spare. Tahir claimed three of the last six wickets and fast bowler Lonwabo Tsotsobe (2-28) got two wickets off successive deliveries. Ahmed Shahzad looked to have given Pakistan a winning start to the five-match series with a gritty 58 off 92 balls — despite getting a blow on the chin — before South Africa stormed back and skittled the last six wickets for just 17 runs.
"It was probably one of the best cricket games I've played in my life. I was telling my teammates 'I don't know how would I sleep tonight,'" Tahir said. Tsotsobe started the remarkable Pakistan slide when he had Umar Amin (20) caught behind in the 41st over. Tahir then had Umar Akmal (18) trapped leg before wicket and Tsotsobe made it 174-7 when he had Sohail Tanvir caught behind while driving off a wide delivery. South Africa sensed victory when Tahir lured Shahid Afridi (9) to hole out at deep midwicket and four balls later Wahab Riaz was caught on the crease plumb lbw.
The last wicket pair of Mohammad Irfan and Ajmal somehow managed to scrap six runs with lanky Irfan surviving an lbw appeal off Tahir before Morne Morkel had his off stump knocked back to fashion a sensational ODI victory. Earlier, Shahzad and Mohammad Hafeez (28) had added 71 runs for the second wicket stand after Tsotsobe and Morkel bowled a tidy opening spells before both fell to Parnell's short pitched deliveries. Captain Misbah-ul-Haq (31) became the 13th Pakistani batsman to complete 4,000 runs in one-day internationals, but played a loose drive in the batting powerplay to give Parnell (3-41) one of the three wickets.
Ajmal and Afridi did the damage during South Africa's innings. It could have been a lot worse at 129-8 in the 35th over. But No. 8 batsman Parnell helped to give his bowlers a chance to defend the modest total. Parnell hit 56 off 70 balls with six fours and a six and his 52-run, ninth-wicket stand with Tsotsobe, 16 not out, was the only silver lining for South Africa after captain AB de Villiers won the toss. Ajmal dismantled the top order with the wickets of Graeme Smith (20), Faf du Plessis (12) and de Villiers (4) as the Proteas struggled to read the offspinner on the slow, turning pitch at Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
Afridi then choked the lower order by having David Miller (37) and Ryan McLaren caught off his own bowling before Parnell and Tsotsobe fought back with a gritty 84-ball stand.
Ajmal earned his 150th wicket in ODIs when Parnell stood in his crease and tried to clear the long on fence in the 49th over only to see Shahzad taking a well-judged catch. The second game of the five-match series will be played at Dubai.