South Africa served up a Valentine's Day massacre Al Capone would've been proud of at the Wanderers as they brushed aside a dispirited Pakistan by nine wickets to take the ODI series 3-1. They now head to the World Cup, not for the first time, in buoyant mood, while Pakistan look forward to cricket's grandest stage, not for the first time, bedraggled and in near chaos.
Once Shaun Pollock had sashayed his way through Pakistan's top order with a fifth five-wicket haul, helping bowl them out for a painfully inadequate 153, few doubts remained. Jacques Kallis and a revitalised AB de Villiers overcame an early hiccup or two, putting on 155 runs for the second wicket, adding a brace of half centuries to already considerable run tallies and leading their side home with nearly 22 overs to spare.
Pakistan's preparations for this game were hit early on, when they lost much of their analytical equipment somewhere between Cape Town and Johannesburg. With Pollock in this kind of form, it's unlikely any laptop would've helped, not even perhaps the super computer, Deep Blue. His form and place were questioned before the start of this South African summer, but he has now taken 19 ODI wickets in nine matches against a succession of subcontinental batsmen clueless against him.
For the third time in the last four matches, he struck in the very first over of the innings, after Inzamam-ul-Haq won another toss and chose to bat. Mohammad Hafeez, on his return, went the way of Kamran Akmal and Imran Nazir earlier in the series and thereafter no batsman sussed out a way of repelling him.
Nazir tried chancing it, swinging at anything white and round. He succeeded briefly, but it was only ever a matter of time before Pollock worked him out. Younis Khan played the waiting game but that didn't work either, as Pollock lulled him into driving onto his stumps in the 13th over.
In his next two overs, he rubbed out Pakistan's middle order; neither Mohammad Yousuf nor Inzamam had time to work out any kind of strategy. Pollock trapped Yousuf leg-before again and the captain fell meekly, a nothing shot to a something ball as Pollock bowled through his allotted overs.
None of it was a surprise, wherein lies his greatness: the ball lands around an off-stump line, the length varies fractionally and there's usually early movement but you'll be damned if you can play it. His genius destroyed Pakistan and it towered above his compatriots, on an unthreatening pitch. Despite the clatter of wickets, Pakistan were still going at roughly four an over by the halfway mark. Where Pollock went for just over two an over, the rest went for nearly five an over at that stage.
Thankfully for Andrew Hall, Charl Langeveldt and Jacques Kallis, Pollock had already done the hard part. By the time he was bowled out, half Pakistan's side were gone; it took the other bowlers over 20 overs to take the lower order out. Though it was only a matter of time before wickets were given up, it was difficult to decide what was poorer in the dismissals of Akmal, Abdul Razzaq and Rao Iftikhar Anjum - the deliveries or the shots. Shoaib Malik continued to bat in that patient, intelligent way which suggests that at number seven he is utterly wasted, but his cause was never anything remotely more than a lost one.
It wasn't by any stretch a threatening total, though Mohammad Asif and Iftikhar provided an early challenge. Asif sent back Smith with the first legitimate delivery of the innings and troubled both Kallis and de Villiers.
When Kallis had strong leg-before shout turned down, and Iftikhar doubled Pakistan's pitifully low maidens tally for the series (he bowled two successively), Pakistan had the thinnest hope. But Kallis shrugged aside his bubble, smacked five luscious boundaries in five thrilling balls between the eighth and ninth overs and suddenly, like that, South Africa were away.
de Villiers looked a man reformed from his terrible Test ordeal, middling most strokes and only in trouble when Kallis called him through for a ghost single. Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, duty-bound to get a hiding, duly received one from de Villiers, the pick of the shots a pulled six in the 19th over. By then, Pakistan were fully crushed, Kallis and his partner cruising singles, doubles and occasional boundaries. Fifties came up for both as matters of routine. Ultimately so too did the win.