At 69 for 2 overnight, chasing 199, both teams would have told themselves that history has a way of repeating itself. Pakistan could jog back to Multan, November 2005: England, chasing a run less, went from a comfortable 64 for 2 to a calamitous 175 all out. On the flipside, South Africa could go back just over a week ago: they were 55 for 2 overnight, chasing 211 against India, ultimately getting home with five wickets in hand. It turns out that history has a short memory, choosing as it did to replicate the more recent parallel.
Mind you, when you have Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla at the crease, two men as outwardly serene as an entire ashram, a repeat of England's panicked bullishness at Multan was unlikely and so it proved. From Kallis such professionalism is expected, but it will have pleased South Africa no end that Amla was also on hand, a senior partner of sorts, to guide them home.
As one of two in the middle order identified as potentially weaker links (Herschelle Gibbs being the other), two fifties is precisely the kind of performance South Africa would have wanted from Amla. He rescued them in the first innings and guided them home in the second. More than that is greedy to ask.
A Gibbs hundred might have iced the cake quite nicely. Instead, a Gibbs controversy gives it a slightly bitter twist. Mark Boucher, as much as he would have wanted to remember this, his 100th Test, he might soon consign it to the dustbin of history, having scored as many runs as catches dropped. But about their only concern would be the men above them, in particular AB de Villiers's form and perhaps what seemed to be a momentary blip in their fielding, when they dropped five catches in Pakistan's second innings.
A seven-wicket win over five days doesn't hide much and though Pakistan will be disappointed, they might not be entirely disheartened. Their batting, the cause of most palpitations before this tour, wasn't shred to pieces, bounced or bullied out. They fell instead to their own impulses which, if you're looking for pluses in a defeat, is something to grasp onto.
Mohammad Asif's return was the real positive. Understandably, given his absence, the pace was down and he tired as the Test wore on, though nearly 42 overs and four more in no-balls would do that to anyone. Had he not taken wickets, Pakistan would still breathe easy, ecstatic just to have him back. But seven wickets, including a five-wicket haul and no perceptible loss in skill actually warrants another Inzamam "Thanks to Allah" in itself.
More thanks might be forthcoming if it turns out Umar Gul and Shoaib Akhtar are fit enough for the second Test at Port Elizabeth, for their back-up to Asif and Danish Kaneria was desperately thin. Not only did Pakistan look like not taking a wicket when neither of them was on, they didn't look like stopping runs: the run-rate was a giddy 4.4 per over when anyone else bowled.
Ironically, their greatest cause for optimism, and one both sides seemed keenly aware of as this Test drew to a close, is that their side is unlikely to resemble the one that turned out here. It is ironic because Pakistan just completed a three-Test series with an unchanged XI for only the second time in their history. Stability is rarely seen as a bad concept in team selection, but when you can welcome back Mohammad Yousuf, Shoaib and Gul, and completely transform your line-up for the better, exceptions will be gladly made.
Comeback wins in three-Test series are still rare events. There have only ever been eight of them, and Pakistan have been involved twice. They lost to Sri Lanka once in the mid-nineties at home but they also won once in Africa, though it was against Zimbabwe. South Africa, having recently completed their second comeback win against India, will dearly hope history, long gone or more recent, doesn't repeat itself.