South Africa 128 for 7 (Smith 33, Butler 2-13) beat New Zealand 127 for 5 (McCullum 57, van der Merwe 2-14) by one run
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
South Africa's bowlers, led by the unhittable spin of Roelof van der Merwe, pulled an improbable victory out of the jaws of defeat as they successfully defended a meagre target of 129 and snuck home by a solitary run to secure the Group D bragging rights in a scrappy but compelling dead-rubber tussle at Lord's.
At the halfway mark of the match, it seemed there could be only one winner, after South Africa had squandered a platform of 47 for 0 after their Powerplay overs to dribble to a disappointing 20-over total of 128 for 7. But New Zealand's response never emerged from second gear. A 54-ball 57 from Brendon McCullum set the platform, but his team-mates failed to dive in, and bizarrely they ran out of steam with six wickets still standing.
The bulk of the credit belonged to van der Merwe, who put a momentum-squandering six-ball duck behind him to concede a mere 14 runs from his four overs, as well as capturing both of New Zealand's dangermen. McCullum was stumped by a distance as he gave the charge and missed, while Ross Taylor swished flat-footedly and was bowled for 22 from 31 balls, a peculiarly ponderous innings that was compounded by a tweaked hamstring that hampered his mobility in the second half of his knock.
McCullum had begun his innings with typical belligerence, cracking three fours from his first seven deliveries as New Zealand put 19 on the ball in just two overs. But at the other end, his support was in short supply. Martin Guptill miscued Dale Steyn to mid-on for 5 before Neil Broom was caught and bowled by a lunging Jacques Kallis for 1, and at the end of the Powerplays, New Zealand had slipped to a sluggish 35 for 2.
With the pitch slowing up, the run-rate went with it, and South Africa's spinners took full advantage. Taylor and McCullum added 56 for the third wicket in 11 overs, as van der Merwe and Johan Botha took the pace off the ball to tormenting effect, and by the time Jacob Oram arrived to reinject some urgency, the requirement was hovering around two runs a ball.
The final scoreline was misleadingly tight. New Zealand failed to hit a single six in their innings, and they would not have come close had it not been for a freakish yorker from Steyn that bounced out of a foothole and over the keeper's head for four byes in the penultimate over. With eight needed from two balls, Oram inside-edged through fine leg to keep the contest alive, but couldn't clear the field with his final baseball-style swing.
It was a disappointing denouement for New Zealand, as South Africa successfully defended the lowest winning total ever made in T20Is, but it was vital match practice nonetheless. Deprived of the services of their captain, Daniel Vettori, who has been struggling with a shoulder problem, New Zealand turned instead to the lanky seam of Ian Butler, and the spin and swing of Nathan McCullum and Scott Styris, who sent down a combined analysis that would have graced a 50-over game: 4 for 41 from ten overs.
Fresh from their 130-run dispatching of Scotland in their opening fixture at The Oval, South Africa seemed to have continued in the same vein when Graeme Smith and Kallis cruised to 47 for 0 in the six Powerplay overs. But as soon as Nathan McCullum was thrown the ball by his brother and captain, Brendon, New Zealand applied a tourniquet that the clinical South Africans were unable to remove.
McCullum's first over went for just two runs, and from the start of the very next over, the rot set in. Smith called Kallis through for a quick single as his brother hurtled round to short midwicket to field. The shy beat Kallis's lunch by a fraction of an inch, whereupon Butler denied the incoming Herschelle Gibbs any early momentum by completing an over in which only one run was possible.
Gibbs, in a hurry to impose himself, then mistimed a drive at Styris to be caught-and-bowled for 3 from 7, before Butler chimed in with the biggest wicket of the lot as Smith played all around a full-length delivery and was comprehensively bowled for 33 from 35. At 63 for 3 in the 12th over, their early momentum had well and truly evaporated.
Had the result not been immaterial, there's no way that AB de Villiers, the star against Scotland, would have been held back this long. But the shuffling of the batting card did South Africa no favours. van der Merwe creaked to a six-ball duck before McCullum yorked him with a quicker ball, and when de Villiers finally appeared to belt his second ball through midwicket for four, it was only South Africa's second boundary in seven overs.
It didn't, however, signal an upturn in their fortunes. A second boundary, this time through the covers, demonstrated that de Villiers' eye was most certainly in, but so was Guptill's in the outfield, as he pulled off a direct hit from mid-off to run the dangerman out for 15 from eight balls.
Mark Boucher failed for the second innings running when he mistimed a full-toss to give Butler a deserved second, and not even JP Duminy could inject any urgency. He did his best with a brace of sixes, but then holed out moments after the second of them, caught by Broom at mid-on. Albie Morkel, a serious striker when the mood takes him, was unable to keep the strike in the dying moments of the innings, as New Zealand completed a fine effort in the field. It was not, however, good enough.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo