South Africa have not lost successive ODI series in five years; a score higher than 271 has never been successfully chased at Kingsmead and neither of those records changed as the hosts sealed the series in the decider with a 62-run margin. In the process, AB de Villiers became the fastest batsman to 8,000 ODI runs, reaching the milestone in 182 innings, 18 fewer than Sourav Ganguly; South Africa posted their highest opening stand in 17 ODIs, of 89; Morne van Wyk scored his first innings of substance since his recall; Farhaan Behardien’s cameo showed his ability to finish and Imran Tahir underlined why he is being regarded one of the best limited-overs spinner in operation at the moment.
That’s not to say New Zealand did not turn up. Their attack adapted fairly well to a surface that did not offer the seamers as much as was expected. Adam Milne and Doug Bracewell bowled tight lines and Grant Elliott’s taking pace off the ball proved effective, but their fielding they put down four chances compared to South Africa’s three let them down and their effort with the bat fizzled out once they lost the men they usually rely on. Martin Guptill went early and Kane Williamson was dismissed seven balls before the halfway stage of their innings and it proved a loss from which New Zealand could not recover.
After taking Tuesday off to rub shoulders with the national rugby squad instead of training to save the series, South Africa’s intent was questioned but they began answering with bat in hand. Van Wyk’s reign saw no need in his natural aggression and found his first runs with a flat-batted pull. Amla played the foil and rotated strike while van Wyk beat the ball to the boundary. He almost paid for that approach when he was on 17 and top-edged a pull off Milne that should have been caught at fine leg but Bracewell spilled an easy chance.
Bracewell had salt rubbed into the wound when van Wyk took 10 runs off his next over to see South Africa through the Powerplay unscathed. He went on to survive New Zealand’s squeeze, which accounted for Amla, who sent a leading edge back to Grant Elliott, and Rilee Rossouw, who was caught at slip, and brought up a half-century off 79 balls. That score may be too late to save his international career but it played an important part in setting South Africa up.
De Villiers and David Miller built on that with a fourth-wicket partnership of 86, which came in just 10 overs. Miller found some of the touch he has been missing, perhaps because he had de Villiers at the other end launching most of the attack. The South African captain reached 8,000 runs with a swipe to midwicket and upped the ante when he dispatched an Ish Sodhi long-hop over midwicket, took three fours of Milne’s seventh over and looked in the mood for a big one, particularly with time left in the innings. But he could not negotiate a Bracewell slower ball which found his off stump and left it to Miller to take over.
Miller lasted less than three overs before loosely offering a catch to Luke Ronchi but Behardien was on hand to accelerate. He timed and placed the ball well for a quickfire 40 off 28 balls to ensure South Africa scored 44 runs in the last six overs and finished strongly.
Behardien’s effort proved to be the major difference between the two sides, after New Zealand’s innings started in similar fashion. Guptill fell to a rejuvenated Dale Steyn, who invited the drive with a full delivery that moved away and found the edge but Tom Latham and Williamson provided stability.
They did not take any risks against Kagiso Rabada, who bowled with pace and control, beat the bat and found steep bounce, but waited for lapses from Kyle Abbott and David Wiese – two bowlers who have still not become as consistent as South Africa might like. Williamson could have been out for 24 when he pulled to Miller at deep midwicket but was let off, and then again on 37 when Rabada raced in from deep cover and dived needlessly instead of being on his feet and collecting, and New Zealand looked like they were laying the platform for a victory push.
Tahir changed all that with a googly that snuck under Williamson’s bat as he came down the track. Although Latham brought up his fifty three balls later, New Zealand’s fight seemed faded.
Latham was run-out to bring Elliott to the crease but he could not pull off his World Cup semi-final heroics. New Zealand lost their last eight wickets for 107 runs, with South Africa’s attack including a still-wayward Wiese sharing spoils, and after their first two fell with the score on 102, it was obvious why an innings of two halves would not win them the series.