South Africa held their nerve while New Zealand didn’t as the tourists won the series-deciding third Twenty20 international by three runs at Auckland tonight.
After promising for so long to cruise to a relatively comfortable victory New Zealand lost their way down the stretch as they were held to 162 for seven chasing South Africa’s 165 for seven at Eden Park.
The New Zealanders, who had six wickets in hand and required only 10 runs to win from the last two overs, misplaced their compass when they needed it most to allow South Africa to squeeze out a tight win to seal the series 2-1.
The departure of Jesse Ryder late in the 19th over rattled New Zealand after the left-hander, returning to international action following an injury break, topscored with 52 from 42 balls.
His dismissal, scooping offspinner Johan Botha directly to short fine leg, left the innings to be closed by James Franklin and Nathan McCullum, but the odds still heavily favoured the hosts at the start of the final over from young fast bowler Marchant de Lange.
They needed seven from the last six balls but after Franklin managed a single off the first, McCullum couldn’t score off the second then lobbed a catch to wicketkeeper AB de Villiers.
Doug Bracewell swung and missed before being caught by Hashim Amla, leaving Franklin searching for a six off the last. He squeezed out only a single but de Lange over-stepped the mark prompting a no-ball call, giving Tim Southee the chance to win the game with a four off the free hit.
Southee missed the ball and New Zealand missed a golden opportunity to win a match which had not so much earlier looked theirs for all money.
Openers Rob Nicol, with 33 off 19 balls, and Martin Guptill, 26 off 19, had given them a quick start and once Ryder settled after a twitchy start they were always well in front of the equation.
That is until Ryder was dismissed, after earlier taking six deliveries to move from 49 to 50.
De Lange did a magnificent job in the last over, taking two wickets for three runs to finish with two for 34 off his four, while Botha was tight and demanding while claiming two for 20 off his four.
New Zealand had done a very tidy job with the ball to restrict the tourists to more than manageable proportions at a venue notoriously difficult to defend on due to its peculiar shape and angles.
They received a huge lift early on when big hitting opener Richard Levi failed to repeat anything like his second match heroics when a record Twenty20 century powered his team to an easy win at Hamilton.
This time he departed in the third over, caught behind square leg by Nicol one ball after depositing the same bowler, James Franklin, over the boundary in the same area.
The South Africans never built up a head of steam, their topscorer being left-hander JP Duminy, who struck the ball sweetly for a 20-ball 38 when he was run out at the non-striker’s end by Nicol, who reacted quickly to field the ball off his own bowling before turning and hitting the stumps.
Opener Amla also looked crisp in making 33 off 32 but he feathered the first ball from seamer Bracewell to wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum in the eighth over to leave the tourists 59 for three.
South Africa still stood a good chance of posting something very challenging when they ended the 12th over at 109 for three but the New Zealanders kept chipping batsmen out and were boosted by two wickets in the 15th over from offspinner Nicol.
He bowled de Villiers for 29 with a quick ball and two deliveries later held one back to trap Justin Ontong leg before wicket.
Nicol finished with two for 20 off three overs to go with two catches and a run out, while fast bowler Tim Southee impressed with his two for 22 off four despite going for 13 off the final over of the innings when Wayne Parnell lifted his personal haul to 22 not out off 17 balls.
The teams now turn their attention to a three-match one-day series, starting at Wellington on Saturday.