A brilliant unbeaten century from Chris Cairns has guided New Zealand to a four wicket victory over South Africa in the countries' VB Series match here at the 'Gabba ground in Brisbane tonight. With his team chasing a target of 242 for victory, Cairns (102*) thrashed the first ball of the 50th over to the extra cover boundary to simultaneously win the match and raise a richly deserved hundred.
The powerful all-rounder had arrived at the crease with New Zealand at 4/73 in the 19th over as it struggled to stay within touch of the total of 241 registered by the South Africans earlier in the day. When Craig McMillan (6) lost his wicket five overs later to leave the total at 5/98, it seemed that the prospect of four points was all but slipping away from the Black Caps' grasp.
However, with Cairns in increasingly confident touch, the New Zealanders' hopes never faded completely. His strokemaking became increasingly belligerent and, with excellent support arriving from Chris Harris (24) and Adam Parore (21*), the Kiwis were duly able to claim an outstanding victory with five balls to spare.
"It's nice to achieve something that I have always wanted to do and that's score a hundred in Australia," said an elated Cairns after the match.
"We just wanted to get the win tonight. Sometimes you realise that, when you get into that situation, you have more time than what you might think.
"(Our achievement) hasn't sunk in yet."
The New Zealanders' chase had begun disastrously as Mark Richardson (0) perished from just the second ball of the innings. And, when Brendon McCullum (37), Stephen Fleming (23), Lou Vincent (9) and McMillan variously joined the list of victims in the pavilion through the middle stages of the pursuit, there looked few ways out for the Black Caps.
Cairns, though, was not to be denied and his partnerships of 62 and 84 runs with Harris and Parore respectively defined the difference between the teams.
He had also played a major role earlier in the day in a lower order South African collapse that laid a vital platform for New Zealand's first limited-overs victory over South Africa since February 1999.
Together with paceman Shane Bond (4/37), undisputed man of the match Cairns (2/44) triggered a remarkable slide that saw the South Africans surrender an imposing position at 5/231 to be dismissed - with only a further ten runs added to the score - just four overs later. Bond's involvement in the fightback was particularly impressive after he had conceded 16 runs in one over to the aggressive Jacques Kallis (65) in the midst of an expensive first spell.
"The way we fought back and denied them a 270 to 280 score was fantastic," enthused New Zealand captain Fleming after the match.
"What (Bond) is showing is good mental toughness (to come back well)," he said.
With opener Gary Kirsten (43), Kallis added 115 runs in an excellent partnership for the second wicket and then another profitable association between Mark Boucher (51) and Jonty Rhodes (44) offered further momentum. But the innings finished on the same note of wicket-taking as it had started - opener Herschelle Gibbs (0) having perished from the very first delivery of the match - and none of the Proteas was ultimately able to rival Cairns' ability to translate a start into a genuinely big innings.
South African captain Shaun Pollock admitted he was disappointed by a defeat that now hands leadership of the competition to the New Zealanders. He expected that there would be some changes to the side that will take on the so far winless Australia in another important game here tomorrow.