The growing popularity of 20-over cricket was again in evidence as a packed house at Johannesburg watched New Zealand beat South Africa by five wickets in the continent's first shortened international. New Zealand won with 11 balls to spare - a country mile in this form of the game - and some eccentric captaincy by Graeme Smith contributed to the outcome.
Smith was in the spotlight throughout. When South Africa batted, he slammed 61 from 43 balls at the top of the order to give his side a flying start, but it was one they squandered. At the death, he brought himself on to bowl with 21 needed off three overs and conceded 20 runs. And he riled New Zealand by refusing to allow Scott Styris a runner - in fairness, Styris has been hampered by a hamstring strain since the tourists landed and brought the injury into the game, but it ensured the tone of the tour was set - it is unlikely to be up for the Spirit of Cricket Series of the Year at next year's ICC Awards.
Stephen Fleming put South Africa in and Smith wasted no time in ramming the decision down his throat with some sparkling strokeplay. But the innings turned when Smith toe-ended a mistimed drive in Nathan Astle's first over. Astle celebrated a looping return catch, but several replays were required to convince Smith and the umpires that he had not patted the ball straight into the ground. He departed with the score on 84 in the tenth over. It was downhill from then as the next ten overs produced only 49 runs for nine wickets as Astle and Jeetan Patel, who both finished with 3 for 20, ripped through the South Africans. The bowling was tight, and Fleming showed the value of taking pace off the ball as a run-checking tactic, but the batting was also largely headless.
In the field, Smith made some interesting tactical moves, not the least of which was using seven bowlers. But he wasn't to blame for Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini letting New Zealand get off to a flier, and his decision to replace Ntini with Andre Nel paid off with two immediate wickets. A second bowling change - Charl Langeveldt for Pollock - again produced an immediate dividend as the dangerous Fleming, who smeared 31 off 25 balls, was removed.
Craig McMillan and Styris added a well-paced 34 in six overs, but McMillan's dismissal by Nicky Boje was immediately followed by the argument over Styris's runner. It seemed to affect the South Africans more than New Zealand, and Jacob Oram and Styris pushed ones and twos before Oram launched Boje for a four and a six within three balls.
That put New Zealand in the box seat, but South Africa weren't out of it, and Langeveldt returned to remove Styris's off stump. Rather than turn to his big guns, Smith took the ball himself and while he did bowl Oram, it was off a no-ball. The rest of the over was a disaster and there was an odd feeling that he appeared to have thrown in the towel. The end came in farce. With one needed, another no-ball was called because there were too many fielders inside the circle.
It would be easy to brush this off as an irrelevance before the real business of the five-match ODI series on Sunday. But in June, England beat Australia in a Twenty20 match ahead of the Ashes. It set the tone for the rest of the summer. South Africa should dismiss this loss at their own peril.