Martin Guptill hit a boundary off the last ball of the game to take his side to victory and move from 97 to 101, becoming only the second man to make a hundred while chasing in a Twenty20 international
Captain, dethroned unceremoniously, pulls out of a big tour. Inexperienced side, with four debutants, gets rolled over in the opening game. You would have expected New Zealand to collectively scrap after that, you would have expected them to compete. What you wouldn't have expected was a solo riposte so dominating and so explosive that it turned New Zealand around from an eight-wicket loss to an eight-wicket win within a couple of days.
In hindsight, it probably helped that Martin Guptill was not scarred by the thrashing New Zealand received in Durban, having missed that game with a stomach bug. He came out a fiercely determined man in East London. Nothing could stop him tonight. He had the power, he had the timing, he had the focus. And even fate was on his side. A couple of catches went down, by Robin Peterson, with Guptill on 62 and 89, a couple of close leg-before shouts were not given, he was caught off a no-ball. And Guptill continued clubbing six after six.
He needed to find the boundary off the last ball of the game, to take his side to victory. He did, swatting Rory Kleinveldt to the cover rope. And also moved from 97 to 101, becoming only the second man after Richard Levi to make a hundred while chasing in a Twenty20 international.
Guptill's assault was so thorough it needed his partners to just hang around at the other end, which they managed to do. He had partnerships of 76 and 73 with Rob Nicol and Brendon McCullum, their contributions being 25 and 17. New Zealand were handed an asking-rate of just under nine, and throughout the innings, Guptill never allowed it to go over 11 - it touched that mark only for the final over. Whenever it did threaten to escalate, a Guptill six was always around the corner.
Guptill began by cutting and punching Kleinveldt for successive boundaries. Soon, he was launching Morne Morkel for six and thumping the spinners, who found it difficult with some dew around. He was particularly severe on the debutant left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso, who he carted for three sixes and two fours. Guptill's strategy was simple - he mostly slog-swept and swung down the ground, adjusting to sweep or hitting straighter when needed to. He was able to sustain that hitting for 69 deliveries, with the final stroke bringing an exultant release of emotion.
South Africa had posted what seemed to be a challenging score. Henry Davids and Faf du Plessis reached half-centuries on either side of a 52-minute interruption due to one of the floodlight towers conking off. The break reduced the match to 19 overs per side, and raised the target for New Zealand to 169.
McCullum had chosen to bat in Durban, and New Zealand had self-destructed their way to 86. This time he put South Africa in, but to New Zealand's dismay, the hosts' batting followed the same pattern it had in Durban. Levi had his eleventh failure in 13 international innings, after being dropped on 2, but Davids and du Plessis were hardly bothered.
Davids, dropped by James Franklin on 36, dominated the 68-run partnership with du Plessis, who did the same during his 79-run stand with David Miller. Davids may be turning 33 next month, but in his second international game, he displayed an uncomplicated, fresh approach as he looked to hit mostly down the ground.
Nathan McCullum was the only bowler to tie the batsmen own as he flighted the ball and also varied his pace greatly. It took a spectacular catch to remove Davids as Jimmy Neesham sprinted back several yards from mid-off, dived full-length, caught the lofted ball and managed to stop himself before the rope to complete the stunner.
Du Plessis took over now, slamming boundaries through his favoured extra cover. Miller, too, began powering the fast bowlers for boundaries over extra cover, before the South African charge was halted by the floodlight failure in the 17th over. There had been issues with one of the towers in the previous international match played at the venue as well, in January this year against Sri Lanka. Both du Plessis and Miller carried on in the same vein on resumption, before Guptill took over for the night.