South Africa 150 for 4 (Du Plessis 51*, Miller 45*, Patel 2-26) beat New Zealand 149 (de Grandhomme 32, Rabada 3-25, Tahir 2-14) by six wickets
South Africa’s one-day side started in New Zealand as the No. 1 and they will end it there after an oscillating series went their way at a ground that now holds some good memories. There were a few jitters with the bat – there were bound to be, weren’t there? – but after a commanding performance in the field, which sucked the life out of New Zealand’s batting order, a target of 150 gave them breathing space.
From the moment that the hero of Hamilton, Martin Guptill, was defeated by Kagiso Rabada there was never any let-up from South Africa with the ball. Rabada was high-class on a surface offering more carry than any other in the series. Imran Tahir, who New Zealand have played well this series, then reeled off the most economical 10-over figures by a South Africa spinner – and the best by any spinner in an ODI in his country – as the innings almost came to a standstill.
Andile Phehlukwayo missed the Hamilton match with a minor groin injury and had a significant impact on his return with the wickets of Dean Brownlie and Ross Taylor. South Africa’s ground-fielding also conjured two wickets, including the major scalp of Kane Williamson, as New Zealand’s batting slumped for the second time in the series.
But they did not let their unbeaten one-day home record, dating back to South Africa’s visit in 2014, go easily and for a moment mid-chase, another Eden Park classic was not complete fantasy. Jeetan Patel had snaffled two – and had an lbw against Faf du Plessis overturned by DRS – and when AB de Villiers was bounced out by James Neesham – not a dismissal you would have put your house on – South Africa were 88 for 4. But du Plessis, who reached fifty with the winning boundary, and David Miller, ensured against any further drama.
It was a superb set-up from Rabada, a sharp bouncer which ensured Guptill had to be wary of planting forward, then a yorker which he tried to advance to but only got in a horrid position with his stumps exposed. As ugly as Hamilton was breathtaking.
Williamson and Brownlie weathered the rest of the opening ten overs but a horror few minutes sent the innings into a spiral. It’s a period Brownlie will want to forget. Firstly he decided to chance de Villiers’ fielding at midwicket which left Williamson stranded when the South Africa captain dived and flicked in the blink of an eye. Williamson’s bat got caught in the turf short of the crease, but he would have been short regardless.
Three balls later, Brownlie play round a full delivery from Phehlukwayo and almost walked before the finger was raised. Tahir’s first four overs cost just four; eventually overs 10-20 brought 31 for 4. As in Wellington, Phehlukwayo was key to that, bowling wicket-to-wicket at brisk pace, and was rewarded again when Taylor fell across a straight one.
Luke Ronchi’s stay was never convincing and he gloved a short ball as he tried to sway out of the line. Neesham, yesterday recalled to the Test squad, had looked as comfortable as any of the top order but for the second time in the series was removed by a short ball from Rabada, although it needed the DRS to confirm the top-edge.
The build-up to Mitchell Santner’s demise highlighted South Africa’s suffocating ground fielding. Three consecutive shots from Santner were intercepted sharply in the infield, then the fourth went to JP Duminy at backward point who slid and threw from the ground, hitting directly with Santner nowhere.
Tahir, who did not concede anything other than singles, gained his reward against the lower order. In three of the five matches, New Zealand had played him as well as anyone of late – “respect” had been the word used by both sides – but they became almost strokeless this time. The pressure of the occasion, the pitch, or just a good day for him? Only they will know.
Such was the swift end to New Zealand’s innings that South Africa batted before the interval. Patel again saw off Quinton de Kock – that change of tactic had worked a treat – and scoring wasn’t easy after the break. Hashim Amla completed a fifty-less series when he drove to cover as did Duminy – the latter far more of a concern – when he drove softly at Patel. Duminy had again been used ahead of de Villiers, but he has regressed during this series.
De Villiers has been far and away South Africa’s best batsman and he was eager to finish things himself. He took a six apiece of Patel and Santner but was then surprised by the nip and angled of Neesham’s bouncer, which followed him and took the glove to the keeper. As a single moment it was a superb spectacle, but not enough to open the game for New Zealand.
Du Plessis ticked over and for the first time in the series Miller played the type of forceful shots he has become known for. The target hurried into view. The sun had only just set. This time not on South Africa.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo