AB de Villiers was at his calculating best to steer South Africa to a comprehensive victory in the first one-day international against the BLACKCAPS in Wellington tonight.
The South African captain scored a magnificent 106 not out off as many balls to ensure the tourists bettered New Zealand’s 253 for nine with the minimum of fuss.
Despite losing three early wickets, South Africa eventually reached their target with 28 balls to spare for the loss of four wickets.
What for a period loomed as a challenge ended in something resembling a stroll after de Villiers and Faf du Plessis put on 129 for the fifth wicket in 15.1 overs.
De Plessis’ share was a head-turning 66 not out off 49 balls and it was his injection of boundaries and power hitting that enabled de Villiers to play the support card once he lost JP Duminy for 46 in the 31st over.
At that stage South Africa were 125 for four and the outcome stull hung in the balance, but du Plessis changed all that as he took over the main striking role as nine fours and one six flowed from his bat.
De Villiers, meanwhile, cleared the boundary four times and also hit three fours but his innings was spurred along by no fewer than 52 singles as he coolly and calmly kept the runs ticking over ahead of the final push.
South Africa went at 10 runs an over in the last five overs when they had their tails up, with the New Zealanders powerless to stem the flow.
Earlier, New Zealand had to fight hard from start to finish before posting their 253 for nine.
They were boosted by half-centuries from Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson plus 32 off 37 balls from James Franklin and a 19-ball 20 from Andrew Ellis.
South Africa’s high quality fast bowling attack looked potent from the outset, with left-armer Lonwabo Tsotsobe’s angle across the batsmen, lanky Morne Morkel’s pace and bounce and Dale Steyn’s swift outswinging deliveries all posing serious questions of the hosts.
The start was slow and deliberate in the circumstances as New Zealand crawled through the opening five overs with just 13 runs on the board and they then had a setback when Tsotsobe dragged Martin Guptill forward as an edge was offered to wicketkeeper de Villiers.
Rob Nicol was uncomfortable at times as South Africa peppered him with the short ball, and he wore one on the helmet from Steyn, but he knuckled down to battle his way through the most difficult times.
Unfortunately he could not press on and departed in the 16th over after making 30 off 58 balls when he failed to get to the pitch of a ball from left-arm spinner Robin Peterson and squirted a catch to slip.
Brendon McCullum had two early reprieves when he used the referral system to have decisions against him overturned before he and Williamson rode out a rough period to put on 79 for the third wicket to give the innings some momentum.
McCullum was largely circumspect, save for two swats over wide long on for six, and New Zealand had finally gained some ascendancy when he was dismissed for 56 off 67 balls, slashing an offering from Jacques Kallis to deep point where Peterson took a great catch diving forward.
Williamson’s 55 off 69 balls contained just four fours but the young right-hander impressed again as he used the full depth of the crease to find any gaps in the field and he rotated the strike intelligently before edging behind off Tsotsobe in the 41st over.
The South Africans were a handful as five of the six bowlers used shared the wickets and there was little respite for the hosts.
Steyn was more challenging than his figures of one for 37 off nine overs suggest, while Morkel took two for 49, Tsotsobe two for 41 and Kallis two for 45.
The second game in the three-match series is at Napier on Wednesday.