What! Have SA just found a match-winning allrounder?
Andile Phehlukwayo has done it too often for the Proteas to have it put down to passing good fortune
What you see is not what you get with Andile Phehlukwayo.
What you see is a smiling softie, a pillow of a player, a beer-pizza-movie-couch-Saturday-night kinda guy. What you get is a gun cricketer – not in the Qaasim Adams sense – who backs himself to help win games that are surely lost.
Phehlukwayo did it again at Kingsmead on Tuesday, taking a career-best 4/22, and claiming two catches, to help dismiss the visitors for 203.
Then he walked to the wicket with Hashim Amla, Reeza Hendricks, Faf du Plessis, David Miller and Heinrich Klaasen all back in the hut with just 80 on the board. And no more proper batters left in that hut. And newbie Rassie van der Dussen at the crease. And Shadab Khan on a hattrick. And with a slip, a short leg and a leg slip for company. And 124 more runs needed to level the series.
What to do?
Phehlukwayo slapped seven fours, several of them after having dashed down the pitch and come uncomfortably close to being caught; two sixes in the space of three deliveries; was dropped; and had an lbw decision reversed.
Luck? It’s lucky the first time and maybe the second. After that it’s down to bulletproof confidence.
Phehlukwayo had Shadab on his knees in frustration and Mickey Arthur’s head in his hands in despair.
More seriously, he appears to have reduced Sarfraz Ahmed to resorting to a despicable verbal attack.
“Hey, black guy, where’s your mother sitting today? What [prayer] have you got her to say for you today?”
That’s what Pakistan’s captain allegedly said to Phehlukwayo. That he said it in Urdu shouldn’t get in the way of him being punished properly. Not that such ugliness would likely have derailed Phehlukwayo even if he had been able to understand it. As he told a television interviewer afterwards: “I’m a positive person. I really like scoring boundaries and making runs.”
Phehlukwayo’s unbeaten 69, his maiden half-century, Van der Dussen’s 80 not out (which followed his 93 on debut at St George’s Park on Saturday) and their stand of 127 won a game Pakistan might have thought they couldn’t lose.
Du Plessis knew he had seen, and got, something special: “Andile is playing for that No 7 slot so this was a big innings. It’s an amazing start to his international career for Rassie. What you look for in new players is composure and calmness at the crease. But the great thing about this game was two guys taking their opportunity.”
The even greater thing is that Phehlukwayo has been there, done that before.
At Kingsmead in October 2016 he took guard with SA needing 107 off 74 to beat Australia. David Miller was well set but the buck stopped with Phehlukwayo – to come were Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir.
Phehlukwayo came up with a 39-ball 42 and SA won with no further loss and four balls to spare.
They were sinking fast in Hamilton in February 2017: 156/6 needing 208 to beat New Zealand. Phehlukwayo took them home with only his wicket standing and one ball remaining, owning 29 of the 52 that were scored off 44.
India had reduced SA to 174/5 in 23.4 in their search for 202 off 28 at the Wanderers in February last year. Phehlukwayo smashed 23, scandalously off five balls, of the 28 runs required to seal victory with 15 balls unbowled.
SA batted first against Sri Lanka in Kandy in August, and were 318/5 when Phehlukwayo joined Miller with 21 deliveries left in the innings. The visitors lost two more wickets but added 45, thanks in large part to Phehlukwayo’s unbeaten 24. The visibly demoralised Lankans were dismissed for 285.
Typically Phehlukwayo’s efforts have been in support. Miller scored an undefeated 118 against Australia at Kingsmead, and AB de Villiers and Heinrich Klaasen were established when he arrived in Hamilton and at the Wanderers.
SA have lost three games in which he has passed 20, and he seems better at taking the game on than taking the safe option. But SA have direly needed the support Phehlukwayo has provided: no player will always win the apparently winnable, but there’s no questioning his appetite for a fight – which is more than you could say for too many of his compatriots in past pressure situations.
Of the 36 ODIs Phehlukwayo has played his team have won 25. It’s a crude measure but it gives him a better winning percentage than De Villers, Miller, Amla, Du Plessis and Quinton de Kock.
To borrow from Sarfraz: Hey, black guy, you’re good for business.