The wide range of genuinely interesting games and the general unpredictability of ODI matches around the world have come as a blessing for ODI cricket in particular, and cricket in general. The worst thing you can have after a successful tournament like the T20 World Cup is a series of dull matches coming as an anti-climax. The interesting thing about the cricket around is that while the margins and final results have been one-sided, the games have not, and have been cut a lot closer than the final margins suggest, as in the first SA-Pak ODI.
While Pakistan have had some trouble making the transition from T20 to Test and ODI cricket, South Africa have had no such problems, looking completely at ease in both forms of the game. The biggest difference between the two sides has been that of application. The South African batsmen have been willing to dig in, settle down, take their time while still keeping the scoring brisk. In that pattern, Gibbs (102) and De Villiers (103) helped take South Africa to 294 for 5 in their 50 overs.
What Pakistan will need to redress is the fact that their best bowling contributions came from their supposed part-times, Hafeez (44 for 0 off 10) and Afridi (48 for 1 off 10), with each of strike bowlers going for over 5.75 per over.
The Pakistani batsmen, on the other hand, have looked strangely reluctant to spend time in the middle. A dash of strokes and a lack of application meant that the top order collapsed once again, with resilience being shown only by Mohammad Yousuf with 53. Despite fireworks and a late charge towards the end by the lower middle order, they folded their innings up for 249 off 46.1 overs.
There is some merit in the heavily questioned and frequently criticized move of bringing Shahid Afridi so low down the order. Afridi is a man who is more likely to give you a 30 ball 45 than a 70 ball 100 on a regular basis. And a 30 ball 45 is most useful when either coming towards the end of the innings, or right at the beginning. He has shown a tendency to not be so comfortable at the top of the order, and so, it makes more sense to use him to bolster the innings towards it's final quarter.
There is, of course, such a thing as coming in too low. Afridi came in today at number 8, at a time when Pakistan had lost more than half the side, and needed too many to get. The 10 per over asking rate wasn't as big a problem as the need to maintain it for over 100 runs was. A blistering innings from him (47 off 26) and Tanvir (26 off 17) meant that the game was never out of Pakistan's reach. But Afridi and the tail were left with far too much to do, and the South African bowlers possess too much guile and craft to allow them to run away with the match.
From here on, to get up on the scoreboard against the Africans, Pakistan will have to either raise their strength - their natural flair and sheer talent - to such a level as to overcome the discipline of the South Africans, or put their heads down, apply themselves and take the unfashionable but more certain way to glory.