It took a tremendous rearguard action, characteristic of the side's spirit and actually almost routine. Pakistan will regret the number of extras they conceded, but their contribution to the match should have done nothing to diminish their self-belief. It was a one-day match with flaws - the fielding errors of both sides embodied the pressure - but it also contained some exhilarating cricket. Fortunes swayed from one side to the other and it would not be a dull prospect were these two to meet in the final.
By the moment the winning hit was struck high towards cover, hardly anybody on the ground could see the swinging white ball which had already been changed once and might as well have been a black hole in space. Hardly anybody, that is, except the remarkable all-rounder, Lance Klusener who is in the form of his life and, in one-day international terms, of anybody else's life.
His nerve, power, composure and sheer luck ensured that South Africa's challenge for the trophy was suddenly revitalised when it looked to be in imminent danger of becoming terminally sluggish. They won by three wickets with one over left and the climax perfectly embodied the suspicion that this World Cup belongs to Klusener. His attempted drive off the final ball of the penultimate over came off an uncontrolled leading edge.
There, surely, Saeed Anwar would take a simple catch and give Pakistan a sniff of a chance of victory. The ball slipped through his fingers - as Klusener probably knew it would - and the batsmen - probably as Klusener knew they would - ran the two they needed.
He was a shoo-in for his fourth man of the match award of the tournament for his 46 off 41 balls, which contained three fours and three sixes. Everything about it, as ever, was timely. The fortunes of the man known as Zulu will change, for the game has a pleasing habit of teaching its practitioners that it is the master. But they will have to do so swiftly if he is to be denied glory this summer.
Before Klusener came to the crease at 135 for 6 yesterday, a typically creaky South African score, he had made 164 runs in four unbeaten innings in the tournament from 147 balls. He has extended that and in the process he has beaten another record too. That fortituous winning hit took his total of runs since last being dismissed in all one-day internationals to 396. Geoff Allott was the last bowler to claim his scalp nine innings ago, an aeon in this type of cricket.
It will hardly console the gallant Pakistanis to know that the man who previously held the record for scoring the most runs in one-dayers without being dismissed was their compatriot, Javed Miandad. Indeed, little else might have consoled them either. When they reduced South Africa to 58 for 5, intially through the ferocious pace of Shoaib Akhtar, the match was there for the taking. They had performed excellently to reach as many as 220, a total which would have been at the lowest end of their estimates when they won the toss and batted.
The Trent Bridge surface did not possess much pace and there was nothing untoward in it either. Saeed and Wajahatullah Wasti were circumspect at the start, a description which might have fitted their approach had it been a four-day match. This has been a lean tournament for Saeed, one of the best five batsmen in the world, and when he was dropped straightforwardly (by Jonty Rhodes of all people) at backward point in the sixth over, it seemed that he might be on his way at last.
Not so, sadly, the game obviously not having yet forgiven for him for previous run excesses and he was the first to go. Pakistan lost wickets regularly and annoyingly thereafter. When they were on the verge of rebuilding, as Abdul Razzaq and and Ijaz Ahmed were during a careful third-wicket partnership, they got themselves out. Razzaq, 19, might be forgiven his pull to midwicket, Ijaz, 31, cannot be so spared from criticism.
The Pakistan innings was to end in a blaze of glory, however. Moin Khan, who had smashed Australia's bowlers for 31 off 12 balls in a group match, did not quite repeat the dose but it was pretty spectacular fare for all that. His party piece was the step across his stumps followed by the immense pick-up to leg, but he was also partial to the jog down the pitch to drive over long-off.
It had less to do with adherence to orthodoxy than Jackson Pollock but it was diverting and effective and brought him 63 from 56 balls. It transformed Pakikstan's innings.
When Shoaib got among the South Africans as early as his third ball, there was a match on all right. His first ball was timed at 91mph, the third reached 93mph and Herschelle Gibbs could only steer it to backward point. Hansie Cronje took it upon himself to try to see off this threat, coming in at No 3. Brave effort, no success. He slashed another devilishily quick one to third man.
Wasim also struck and South Africa looked out of it. But their relisince is admirable and in its way awesome. First Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock embarrked on reconstruction with a stand of 77. And when Pollock went, Klusener came in.
It shifted towards South Africa but Shoaib was brought back and bowled a marvellous over to Kallis. The next one the batsman faced from Saqlain Mushtaq and he was out. But Klusener is utterly imperturbable. He skied a few but he just got down to the next ball. When it was short enough or full enough he went for the big swing. Sixes off Shoaib and Wasim were his reward.
He is up against New Zealand again on Thursday. He is due to be out. Somebody had better work out a way shortly.
TRENT BRIDGE SCOREBOARD
Pakistan won toss
Saeed Anwar c Boucher b Elworthy 23
(Edged outswinger to keeper; 54 min, 37 balls, 2 fours)
Wajahatullah Wasti c Boucher b Donald 17
(Failed to get into line to outswinger; 80 min, 56 balls, 2 fours)
Abdul Razzaq c Kirsten b Elworthy 30
(Skied pull to deep midwicket; 76 min, 60 balls, 2 fours)
Ijaz Ahmed c Cullinan b Klusener 23
(Drove on the up to short extra; 61 min, 36 balls, 1 four, 1 six)
Inzamam-ul-Haq run out (Rhodes, TV replay) 4
(Failed to ground bat on short single; 24 min, 15 balls)
Yousuf Youhana run out (Klusener, TV replay) 17
(Runner [Ijaz] inches short to direct hit; 48 min, 27 balls, 1 four)
Moin Khan run out (Cronje-Boucher, TV replay) 63
(Beaten by strong throw from deep extra; 62 min, 56 balls, 6 fours, 2 sixes)
Azhar Mahmood not out 15
(34 min, 10 balls, 1 four)
*Wasim Akram not out 5
(6 min, 3 balls, 1 four)
Extras (b4, lb8, w11) 23
Total (for 7, 226 min, 50 overs) 220
Fall: 1-41 (Saeed Anwar), 2-58 (Wajahatullah Wasti), 3-102 (Abdul Razzaq), 4-111 (Ijaz Ahmed), 5-118 (Inzamam-ul-Haq), 6-150 (Yousuf Youhana), 7- 206 (Moin Khan).
Did not bat: Saqlain Mushtaq, Shoaib Akhtar.
Bowling: Pollock 10-1-42-0 (4-1-6-0 2-0-5-0 2-0-4-0 2-0-27-0), Kallis 10-0-47-0 (w7) (4-0-21-0 2-0-10-0 4-0-16-0), Donald 10-2-49-1 (w2) (6- 2-16-1 2-0-12-0 2-0-21-0), Elworthy 10-2-23-2 (w1) (one spell), Klusener 9-0-41-1 (6-0-26-1 3-0-15-0), Cronje 1-0- 6-0.
Progress: 50 in 67 min, 97 balls. 100 in 127 min, 171 balls. 150 in 189 min, 256 balls. 200 in 214 min, 287 balls. 15 overs score: 47-1.
Moin Khan 50: 53 min, 48 balls, 5 four, 1 six.
G Kirsten lbw b Wasim Akram 19
(Padded up to in-ducker; 54 min, 38 balls, 3 fours)
H H Gibbs c Ijaz Ahmed b Shoaib Akhtar 0
(Beaten for pace, sparred to gully; 6 min, 3 balls))
*W J Cronje c Saqlain Mushtaq b Shoaib Akhtar 4
(Slashed high to third man;, 20 min, 15 balls, 1 four)
D J Cullinan c Saeed Anwar b Azhar Mahmood 18
(Drove loosely to cover; 56 min, 42 balls, 2 fours)
J H Kallis c Moin Khan b Saqlain Mushtaq 54
(Top-edged attempted sweep; 148 min, 98 balls, 3 fours, 1 five)
J N Rhodes lbw b Azhar Mahmood 0
(Beaten by inswinger; 8 min, 6 balls)
S M Pollock c Inzamam-ul-Haq b Azhar Mahmood 30
(Drove flat footed at outswinger; 70 min, 45 balls, 3 fours))
L Klusener not out 46
(61 min, 41 balls, 3 fours, 3 sixes)
M V Boucher not out 12
(22 min, 15 balls, 1 six)
Extras (lb11, w14, nb13) 38
Total (for 7, 49 overs) 221
Fall: 1-7 (Gibbs), 2-19 (Cronje), 3-39 (Kirsten), 4-55 (Cullinan), 5- 58 (Rhodes), 6-135 (Pollock), 7-176 (Kallis)
To bat: S Elworthy, A A Donald.
Bowling: Wasim Akram 10-0-44-1 (nb5,w3) (7-0-24-1 2-0-12-0 1-0-8-0), Shoaib Akhtar 9-1-52-2 (nb7,w1) (4-1-13-2 3-0-23-0 2-0-15-0), Azhar Mahmood 10-1-24-3 (w3) (7-1-14-2 3-0-10-1), Abdul Razzaq 10-1-40-0 (nb1,w4) (one spell), Saqlain Mushtaq 10-0-51-1 (w 3) (5-0-23-0 2-0-9-0 3-0-19-1).
Progress: 50 in 68 mins, 92 balls. 100 in 135 mins, 188 balls. 150 in 173 mins, 235 balls. 200 in 217 mins, 290 balls. 15 overs score: 54-3.
Kallis 50: 130 mins, 89 balls, 3 fours, 1 five.
Umpires: D B Hair, D R Shepherd. TV Replays: D B Cowie Match Referee: J R Reid
Man of the match: L Klusener
South Africa won by 3 wkts Compiled: Jo King