South Africa have beaten Pakistan by nine wickets and in so doing have clinched the Standard Bank one-day international series, going into the last game in Cape Town, on Wednesday, with an unassailable three-one lead.

Brought back into the team to stabilise the top order, Gary Kirsten steered South Africa to victory. Having survived an excellent leg before appeal from Waqar Younis before he had scored, and dropped by Shoaib Akhtar off Abdur Razzaq when on 30, the left-hander batted through the innings, ending on a magnificent undefeated 102, his 13th century in one-day international cricket. A welcome return to form could not have been better timed with the World Cup some 50 days away.

"Mentally I have enjoyed the break from top-class cricket," Kirsten said on receiving the Man-of-the Match award. "As an opener you do need to have a breather now and again, maybe not as long as I have had. I have been desperate to make the World Cup team, and maybe this innings has played me back into favour."

In an opening partnership of 111, Kirsten matched Herschelle Gibbs run for run before a peach of a ball from Razzaq bowled Gibbs. An off-cutter pitched outside off before cutting back between bat and pad and into Gibbs' stumps for his 52, his 14th half century.

Dippenaar then looked a lot more comfortable, either because of the platform that had been set or because Neil McKenzie's absence had reduced the pressure on him. He was not afraid to take Shoaib Akhtar on, pulling and hooking the speedster with ease and ending unbeaten on 47.

With eight overs to spare, the win was emphatic and the series victory will do the South Africans a world of good as they head towards the World Cup next February.

Waqar won the toss, and under cloudy and overcast conditions surprisingly decided to bat first. His decision might have been influenced by the threat of rain later in the afternoon but that never materialised with the pitch improving as the day went on.

A slow start was turned around by Kamran Akmal, deputising for the injured Rashid Latif, playing some brave shots in his 31 in an opening partnership of 54 with Saleem Elahi who made 26.

A further 62-run partnership between Yousuf Youhana and Inzamam-ul-Haq left Pakistan on 129/4 when Inzamam, just starting to play some joyous shots, was trapped in front by Robin Peterson for 34. A crucial wicket for the youngster, and one that sparked a collapse.

Younis Khan caught behind the wicket off Makhaya Ntini became Mark Boucher's 200th one-day dismissal, the fifth and second-fastest wicket-keeper (behind Adam Gilchrist) to achieve the milestone.

Shahid Afridi entered with nine overs remaining and only the tail-enders to follow. He defended three balls and then played the most irresponsible shot of the series. Making room to leg, he tried to slog Kallis into Cape Town, missing and losing his middle stump.

Yousuf Youhana played a little gem of an innings, but with wickets falling around him he tried to keep the strike and was run out by Rhodes when Saqlain Mushtaq pushed to backward point. The little general had the wicket down at the bowler's end with Youhana stranded in mid-pitch. A face-saving innings from Youhana of 61. But 213 all out in 48.4 overs was always going to be too few on the improving pitch.

"We never scored enough runs, we needed another 60 or 70 runs to make a game of it," Waqar said. "We just couldn't put partnerships together with wickets falling every five to seven overs."

He added that with the series lost it will enable Pakistan to give some of their youngsters a game. The South African bowlers were again excellent. Continually applying pressure, they never let the batsmen get on top.

"It was another professional performance from the bowlers, restricting them to 213 on this pitch was exactly what we wanted from them", said Shaun Pollock.

The players now head to Cape Town, and with the series decided we might see some experimental teams take to the Newlands field on Wednesday.