South Africa's batting improved to match their bowling effort and with both departments at a similar standard, took a 2-1 lead in the five-match series. Half-centuries from Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy helped South Africa post their first total over 250 in 11 innings before another impressive effort from their attack made sure Pakistan were just about out of the match before the batting Powerplay of their innings was over.
The last time Pakistan successfully chased a total of over 250 was more than two years and nine months ago, when they beat New Zealand in Napier. After the start Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez gave, it seemed that could change in Abu Dhabi. They posted 50 in 47 balls with 80% of the runs coming in boundaries but between them and Wahab Riaz and Sohail Tanvir's blitz, there was little else from a line-up which is prone to collapses.
South Africa had both their big names players back in the XI with Hashim Amla slotting in at the top of the order and Dale Steyn included as well. Amla made little difference, bowled for 10 by Mohammad Irfan, but Steyn struck the blow that turned the match.
After Shehzad and Hafeez got on top of South Africa, with Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe struggling to hit the right lengths in their opening spell, Steyn made the decisive inroad. His first delivery was short and angling away. Shehzad prodded and was caught behind and Pakistan's momentum was abruptly halted.
Shehzad had played with freedom to that point, driving, pulling and cutting to leave the new ball bowlers looking out of sorts. Once he was gone, South Africa asserted their authority, removing Hafeez in the next over through a good catch by du Plessis at point.
Steyn left the field after his initial three-over spell and seemed to be clutching his hamstring but returned to bowl soon after. He handed over to Tsotsobe, who bowled a controlled second spell, headlined by 21 dot balls in succession to build pressure even while Imran Tahir was leaking runs at the other end.
Tsotsobe was rewarded for his miserliness. His 19th dot was edged by Umar Amin and even though he wasn't given out on field, the review revealed a clear nick. Eight balls later, Tahir trapped Misbah lbw with the googly - the Pakistan captain was too late to review but it would not have mattered - and Pakistan had unravelled.
Having swelled with confidence, Tahir bowled a range of variations and picked up two more wickets not off his best balls but because of poor shot selection - Umar Akmal who returned a full toss to the legspinner and Asad Shafiq who gifted a catch to cover. Ryan McLaren's wily effort could easily have gone unnoticed but his mixture of change of pace and immaculate line helped him claim the wicket of Shahid Afridi to leave the Pakistan tail to end the match with dignity.
Wahab and Tanvir had some fun, swinging their way to a stand of 61, the highest of the innings but by then it was too late. Pakistan needed partnerships earlier, like South Africa had to be able to chase down the total.
Quinton de Kock and du Plessis put on 77 in a display of the former's new-found maturity and the latter's return to form. De Kock has obviously tightened around the offstump after the torrid time he had in Sri Lanka while the move to promote du Plessis to No.3 paid off.
He was struggling against spin in the previous matches and giving him time against a newer ball proved the right decision. Du Plessis had time to settle in and batted with more patience and composed an innings for the first time in many months. Both he and de Kock were out to Afridi, in what could have allowed Pakistan to run through South Africa but the middle-order held firm.
JP Duminy was given out lbw off Irfan, who struggled with his lines, on three but reviewed successfully - the first time that has happened in the series - and survived a run-out chance. Irfan dropped a catch in his follow through from de Villiers but didn't get a finger on the ball as it hit the non-striker's stumps, where Duminy was out of his ground.
The nervous moments did not affect either Duminy or de Villiers as they took advantage of anything too full and rotated strike cautiously but effectively to post a stand of 70. They put South Africa in a position from which 300 seemed possible but de Villiers was the victim of a sharp catch when he pulled Ajmal to fine leg where Hafeez pouched the ball going backwards.
Duminy, even after reaching fifty off 67 balls, remained watchful but McLaren managed ten runs in the last over. South Africa scored 34 in the last five to suggest their batting is making progress after being bowled out for under 200 in the two matches before this.
Once they posted a competitive total, for the third time in a row this series, the chasing team came off second best.