New Zealand 264 for 4 (Marshall 74, Styris 69, Fleming 51) beat South Africa 259 for 7 (Rudolph 70*, Boje 50, Oram 3-51) by 6 wickets

New Zealand put in a fine performance, held their nerve, beat South Africa by six wickets, and took an unassailable 3-1 lead in this six-match series. On a rain-interrupted day in Dunedin they used their superior knowledge of the Carisbrook conditions well. But it was not smooth sailing all the way.

When Stephen Fleming won the toss there was no doubt that he would field first. The skies were overcast, an icy wind buffeted the ground, and rain seemed just a passing cloud away. Michael Mason, in the team in place of the injured Daryl Tuffey, showed why he is rated so highly. He assessed the situation well and bowled within himself. He kept the ball up in the batsman's half and gave away no width.

Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs waited out an initial spell of controlled seam bowling. Neither took the attack to the opposition, and South Africa were quickly on the back foot - only figuratively, of course. With the square boundaries being just over 50 yards away, bowling short was the surest way to commit cricket suicide. In this, New Zealand showed a better reading of the situation.

Gibbs (16) and Jacques Kallis (14) fell cheaply. Gibbs was lbw trying to manufacture a shot, and Kallis holed out as he tried to carve the ball to the short boundary (53 for 2). Smith (37) had done the bulk of the scoring at the top of the order, and when he was caught behind off Jacob Oram, courtesy of a thick inside-edge via his thigh-pad, South Africa were in trouble (78 for 3). Then Boeta Dippenaar (18) was clean bowled by Chris Cairns - and 100 for 4 from nearly 30 overs was not such a good score.

Nicky Boje, promoted to No. 5, underlined his utility, clipping, nudging, tucking and driving the ball around. For the first time in the innings a batsman was scoring freely. Seemingly without taking risks, Boje helped add 84 for the fifth wicket. His fifty came off just 47 balls, and included five fours. Even Boje's dismissal came as he was trying to accelerate. He inside-edged Scott Styris while playing a premeditated sweep (184 for 5).

Jacques Rudolph then took over. Fresh legs, and a mind undisturbed by two breaks due to rain, combined to prove that the pitch still had more in it for the batsmen. Rudolph took on the bowlers without attempting anything over the top. He knew the best areas to score were square of the wicket, and exploited this with childish joy. He walked down the pitch as though he was toying with a kid in the back yard, used the pace of the quicker men well, and deflected the ball into gaps. Even as wickets fell at the other end - Mark Boucher came and went for a breezy 35 - Rudolph held his nerve. He was unbeaten on 70, and helped South Africa reach 259 for 7.

When New Zealand began their chase, they had the advantage of knowing exactly what they needed to do. Unlike South Africa, shooting in the dark for the right total on this pitch, Fleming and his men knew exactly what they needed to do to come out on top. It was a situation tailormade for New Zealand: no heroics were called for, just an honest, professional plod to the finish line.

Few people can plod with as much grace as Fleming. Aside from playing and missing early on - only to be expected in overcast conditions - the New Zealand batsmen were in total control. Shaun Pollock was his usual miserly self, but the good work was undone by Andre Nel who distributed presents as if he were Santa Claus on speed.

Fleming and Michael Papps were a study in contrast. Papps, stocky and thick-set, lunged onto the front foot, but favoured the cut and the pull. Fleming, tall and lithe, drove with the full face of the bat. It was finally a short ball that gave South Africa respite: Papps (29) pulled Makhaya Ntini to Boje in the deep (71 for 1).

Just as Papps gave way to Hamish Marshall, pace gave way to slower stuff. This suited Marshall just fine. Lance Klusener's offcutters were coming on at an ideal pace to work around, and Boje is no Derek Underwood. Despite that, Boje struck almost immediately, as Fleming (51) chipped a ball straight to Pollock at square leg (102 for 2). Fleming walked back slowly, leaden-footed feet with disappointment, after throwing away a start. Yet he had done the most important thing: show exactly how the task was to be approached.

Marshall (74) and Styris (69) batted with a maturity that made the task seem a formality. Both players shelved the big shots, playing them only to rank bad balls when it was safe. They put on 126 for the third wicket, and took New Zealand to the verge of victory. From there, Cairns, with a couple of big sixes, and Craig McMillan took New Zealand home.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.