South Africa take series after see-saw game
South Africa 266 for 5 (de Kock 112, Junaid 2-42) beat Pakistan 238 (Misbah 65, Maqsood 56, Steyn 5-25) by 28 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Dale Steyn had just two overs left. Between him and AB de Villiers they decided to station a third man for Umar Akmal. On cue, the Pakistan gloveman tried to heave a full delivery over midwicket but got a leading edge to where South Africa had placed their tallest man. Morne Morkel judged the catch perfectly, avoiding the boundary and grabbing the ball. For Pakistan, that should have been a minor setback.
Three balls later, Misbah-ul-Haq tried to take Steyn on. He aimed where Akmal had been trying to go but he did not strike the ball cleanly. AB de Villiers came in from the boundary to take the catch. And two balls after that, Saeed Ajmal attempted a pull to a good length ball, missed and saw his stumps shattered.
In the space of an over, Dale Steyn had racked up his best bowling figures in ODI cricket. Pakistan had gone from 228 for 5 to 231 for 8 and the series was settled.
Six balls was all it took to undo the hard graft by Pakistan's opening pair, who put on their second successive stand of fifty-plus, and the effort of the debutant Sohaib Maqsood, who put his seniors to shame with an innings underlined by confidence and crafted with good technique. Six balls was all it took to ensure Pakistan run of two years and nine months without a successful chase of over 250 extended another day. And six balls was all it took to ensure South Africa's record of never having been defeated by Pakistan in a bilateral series intact.
The series scoreline as it stands now - 3-1 in favour of South Africa - is an accurate reflection of where the teams stand. Both have improved from the first match, when they made scoring 200 seem a task akin to climbing Everest, but South Africa's progress has accelerated past Pakistan, particularly in the batting department.
It has taken Quinton de Kock nine ODIs to produce the impact performance that suggests he belongs at this level but he delivered in a way that reflects his own growth. Having come on to the scene with a worrying looseness outside of the offstump and weakness against spin, he had done a lot of work and it showed.
De Kock had the advantage of Hashim Amla's experience in the opening passage of play and Amla was seen offering advice when run-scoring was difficult for de Kock early on. Amla asserted his authority over Mohammad Irfan and took the pressure off de Kock, who almost succumbed to it when he flashed to Mohammad Hafeez at slip on two but was dropped, to allow the younger batsman to play himself in.
De Kock's footwork helped him handle Pakistan's spinners with much more ease than he has done in the past and he rotated strike with AB de Villiers well. He gave South Africa a platform from which they could aim for a total of over 270.
Pakistan almost dragged South Africa back when they took three wickets in four overs but their seamers lacked control at the beginning and end of the innings while Ajmal went wicketless for the first time in 10 matches. They conceded 45 runs in the last five overs, leaving their batsmen with a tough task.
Ahmed Shehzad and Hafeez seemed up for it. They battled through a lean early period, scoring only eight runs in the first five overs, before breaking the shackles. Shehzad, as he has been throughout the series, drove, cut and pulled well. Hafeez was more tentative and more streaky, getting a few runs off the edge, but showed good patience.
After Shehzad's run-out - a result of not grounding his bat - Hafeez should have taken some responsibility but played for a legspinner as Imran Tahir got one to go straight on and was bowled. Lonwabo Tsotsobe deceived Asad Shafiq with extra bounce and Pakistan had lost three wickets in 15 deliveries to teeter on the brink of collapse.
Maqsood and Misbah put on 88 for the fourth wicket with the debutant showing his hard-hitting ability and Misbah continually moving across his stumps to his the ball behind square. They took on Tahir in particular but hit the South African seamers off their lines. Even though Pakistan had to chase at more than seven to the over, the target was not out of their sights.
De Villiers made astute bowling changes and brought Steyn back on in the second over of the Powerplay. Maqsood tried to take him on but was well caught by de Villiers at mid-on. From there, Morkel applied pressure, giving away only two runs in his eighth over and Pakistan had to attack Steyn.
Their plan of sending Sohail Tanvir up the order did not work and then they went into free fall. They lost five wickets for 10 runs which leaves Monday's final match in Sharjah a dead rubber.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent