Hold a mirror up to Pakistan's match-winning innings at Kingsmead and you will see South Africa's, minus one major crack. Both sides lost early wickets before being anchored by a sizeable partnership, and Misbah-ul-Haq and Imran Farhat's 153-run stand made the ultimate difference.
Misbah scored his second half-century in the series and Farhat celebrated his return to the side with a well-paced knock. Farhat fell with only nine runs to get and by then he had done enough to negate South Africa's attack. On the whole, they were too generous in the extras department and lacked the same bite Pakistan had shown in the Powerplays.
Pakistan got first use of a pitch South Africa were worried would be too dry; they ordered it to be juiced up on the eve of the match. But the surface could not be credited for the top-order collapse as much as the potency of Pakistan's opening bowlers. Mohammed Irfan stunned South Africa with the first two deliveries of the match. He had Hashim Amla caught behind and removed Colin Ingram with a yorker.
Graeme Smith joined the procession when Junaid Khan bowled him off a full toss bowling on leg stump. Junaid plucked the fourth when Farhaan Behardien inside-edged through to Kamran Akmal and South Africa were reeling at 38 for 4.
In that mess, lay an opportunity for David Miller to make an impact and he almost let it go, while he was dropped on 9. Pakistan paid for that mistake as Miller taunted them with some streaky shots. He edged to third man twice and survived an lbw review off Saeed Ajmal. But, he was strong on the sweep and reverse-paddle and brought up his third half-century off 63 balls. AB De Villiers had already reached his fifty by then. He only scored one boundary in the partnership, as he focussed on strike-rotation.
De Villiers, however, may have missed a trick by not taking the Powerplay while Miller was still there. He waited until it was mandatory by which time Miller was out, trapped in front by Ajmal. He reviewed it in vain and may have even cost his captain later on. De Villiers was caught behind sweeping Ajmal and he had no reviews left to question whether he had gloved the ball or not. The Powerplay, which also included the wicket of Ryan McLaren, yielded 17 runs and two wickets to put Pakistan firmly in control.
Robin Peterson helped South Africa go past the 230-mark but with the knowledge that scores above 250 are rare at the ground, Pakistan would have been confident. Their start to the chase would have hurt that. Mohammed Hafeez became the first batsman in international cricket to be dismissed obstructing the field under the new laws, and Kamran Akmal was caught magnificently by Miller.
Hafeez was livid with his dismissal, but it was nothing more than application of the playing conditions. When returning for a second run, he altered the line of his path slightly to be struck, but it was enough to be ruled out. De Villiers fell prey to this law in a domestic match shortly after it was introduced and knew that an appeal would likely result in a wicket.
Farhat and Akmal showed some aggression but also flirted with danger. When Farhat spliced a ball back to Dale Steyn, he could have been caught in the follow-through but Steyn fell hard on his chest. Steyn bowled two more overs before leaving the field clutching his shoulder. Akmal didn't have the same luck. When he cut to point, Miller was waiting. The fortune pendulum went back Pakistan's way when Younis Khan was dropped by Smith at slip but that did not cost South Africa because played on in the same over.
At 33 for 3, Farhat and Misbah-ul-Haq had to do what de Villiers and Miller did for South Africa. They had to employ immense patience in the face of strangulation from Peterson, who could have had Farhat for 26, had de Villiers held on to a bottom edge. The pair was content to bide time. The stand was not risk free, however. Misbah scored the fifth and sixth boundaries of the innings in the 25th and 26th over, and they were both streaky - an inside edge and a top-edge.
With nerves rising, de Villiers took a gamble and brought on Ingram - who has not bowled in international cricket - for some part-time leg spin. Misbah smashed him for two sixes down the ground with a four sandwiched in between. The over cost 17 runs and was the most expensive of the innings but that was not the only reason it was notable. It brought the required-rate down to under six and took the pressure off Pakistan considerably.
Another boundary was not scored for three overs but the body language had changed. South Africa were desperate, Pakistan hopeful, and Misbah sensed a century. He played a selection of stylish strokes, a majority of them in his preferred straight area. He was the favourite of the two in-batsmen to register three-figures but top-edged Peterson to Behardien at midwicket.
When Shahid Afridi boomed briefly and then went bust, the path was clear for Farhat to finish the job. The shot that defined his innings was a six over Steyn's head when he cleared his front leg and swatted the ball over the boundary. That took him into the 90s and that was when the excitement got to him.
In his haste to bring up a milestone, Farhat tried to clear the in-field but was caught by Berhardien who chased it down from cover. By then, Pakistan needed runs in single-figures and even though Wahab Riaz was run out trying to get them, Ajmal and Shoaib Malik finished it off. The series will be decided on Sunday in Benoni where South Africa could find themselves without Steyn and Smith, who has an ankle problem.