DUBAI // The Dubai International Cricket Stadium managed to escape unscathed when a mid-afternoon rain shower passed through the city yesterday. However, the storm clouds which follow Pakistan's cricketers wherever they go seemed to have returned with a vengeance.
Having battled nobly to maintain parity in one of the most gripping series in the recent history of the waning 50-over format, Pakistan were undone at the last when attention was for the most part focused on one absent player.
Zulqarnain Haider, the team's wicketkeeper, went walkabout on the morning of the game, and ended the day in England, having apparently fled the threat of fixers.
With a collective shrug of their shoulders, his teammates went to work. They are used to dealing with controversy, but this latest distraction struck at just the wrong time.
Before Pakistan had noticed, South Africa were on their way to a formidable 317 for five, and then to a series-deciding 57-run win.
If any extras clues about the chaotic nature of Pakistan's build-up to the game were required, the presence of Mohammed Yousuf in their line-up was one.
The veteran batsman was not officially part of their one-day squad, but, having arrived in the UAE ahead of the forthcoming Tests, he went straight in to the side.
His elevation had obviously been hasty. Instead of wearing his own shirt, he had borrowed a spare one, had some green cloth stitched into the top and had his name handwritten messily onto it.
His presence made little difference. Chasing such a vast total, the Pakistanis were always up against considerable odds. Umar Akmal, who made a sparkling 60, and Abdul Razzaq (39) gave the massed Pakistan supporters hope, but their challenge was ultimately too great.
The unpredictable nature of this series even extended to the pitch. Unusually, the batting track that threatened to become a minefield after a low-scoring opener, had morphed into a docile featherbed.
The groundstaff had done an extraordinary job. There was not even a scar on it at the start, even though it was the third game on the same wicket within the space of a week.
The South Africans were grateful for the curator's efforts. Hashim Amla is likely to leapfrog his teammate, AB de Villiers, at the top of the official rankings for one-day international batsmen when the data from this series is entered today.
The way he started here, it seemed certain he was going to celebrate his ascension to the No 1 spot with a century.
He blazed three fours in the opening over, then three more sublimely-timed boundaries in the seventh, as he raced to 62 in 47 balls. Shoaib Akhtar, the pacer who spearheads Pakistan's bowling, suffered the most. His seven overs eventually cost an ugly 77 runs. At least he was afforded some light relief when he held the catch, off Shahid Afridi, which eventually dismissed Amla.
The man Amla will displace, De Villiers, looked at the most fluent he has been in the series as he made 61, while JP Duminy finished the innings with a flourish as he posted an unbeaten 52 from 37 balls. Despite those three making dapper half-centuries, the undoubted star of the South African effort was Jacques Kallis.
In making his 95-ball 83, the master all-rounder passed 11,000 career runs in ODIs. Those figures only represent part of his worth: he also returned to take three top-order wickets with the ball, as well as a tumbling catch to get rid of the in-form Mohammed Hafeez.
Hafeez has been one of the few Pakistanis to emerge in credit from the recent months of turmoil.
The last time he was in Dubai was in March as captain of Pakistan's second string. After another even-paced half-century here he could consider himself a mainstay of the senior side now. However, his breezy 59 was ultimately in vain.