Considering how the Test series had gone, few had given Pakistan a chance to keep the ODI series alive beyond three games. That three-game window would have been granted as that's the smallest possible one permitted by mathematics in a five-match series.
Yet, here we are. Four games in, and Pakistan have not only been uber competitive but would have actually wrapped up the series by now, if it weren't for the Africans' luck of the Irish.
While Pakistan's ODI unit definitely is better — or less flawed — than its Test roster, it would not be accurate to suggest that their improved showings in the ongoing series is entirely down to their own brilliance.
Through the first four games, the Proteas have been uncharacteristically lethargic to the extent where it seems they are only playing because they have to, and not because they want to.
That they have rested Dale Steyn, Quinton de Kock and Duanne Olivier at various points and instead given chances to a mix of newbies and second-stringers tells how they view this series.
One possible reason for this could be that South Africa have a full-fledged five-match home series against Sri Lanka waiting them in March.
So it makes perfect sense for them to rest a few regulars and try out some new combinations against Pakistan before reverting back to the usual line-ups and strategies against the islanders.
Pakistan may have also done the same, had they not been whitewashed in Tests. The 3-0 drubbing means they could ill-afford to experiment owing to its obvious perils.
As a team, the pressure will not be on the tourists today as they have already overachieved by staying on equal footing thus far. But from individual players' perspective, the game is a gilt-edged opportunity to leave a positive impression on the selectors' minds.
For the likes of Usman Shinwari and Mohammad Amir especially, the game is their final ODI audition in Africa and could make or break their chances of reserving their berths on the England-bound plane this summer.
Shinwari, for instance, impressed mightily in the fourth ODI as he earned the man of the match award for his four-for. Another one of the same and the selectors could find it hard to not retain him in the squad for the England series come May — a tour that would be the key to deciding the World Cup roster.
On the other end of the spectrum is Amir, who did bowl well last time out and even picked up a wicket, but that was the only wicket he's picked in the last seven games — three of which were against sides such as Zimbabwe and Hong Kong.
For now, it's hard to imagine that Amir could miss out on the England series or the World Cup. Having said that, if he struggles for wickets again in today's encounter, then Inzamamul Haq and co may have to rethink some stuff. After all, fast bowling is arguably the most stacked of all the departments for Pakistan and there are replacements aplenty.
As mentioned above, winning or giving their all has come after conserving and experimenting on South Africa's agenda in the series so far. That could change today though as dropping home series in a World Cup is just bad optics.
To account for the anticipated push on the hosts' part, Shoaib Malik's men will have to go the extra mile to get the job done.
The writer is a cricket aficionado based in Karachi.