On the back of a splendid hundred by Hashim Amla, South Africa took wickets at crucial times to beat New Zealand by 20 runs in the first ODI in Centurion on Wednesday.
This was perhaps not as convincing a victory as the scorecard suggests after New Zealand shot themselves in the foot with some soft dismissals.
Chasing 305 for a win, they finished on 284 and will lament their impatience at the crease. A smarter approach to the chase could have taken this game down to the wire.
South Africa had a poor performance in the field, dropping several catches and a missed run-out by Morne van Wyk towards the end.
You get the sense that AB de Villiers will be happy enough with the result, but he knows that hard work lies ahead in the two remaining matches, not least of all from a fielding perspective.
New Zealand looked dangerous early on as Kane Williamson (47) and Tom Latham (60) shared a 104-run partnership for the second wicket. Imran Tahir (2-40) got rid of Williamson, before David Wiese claimed his first ODI wicket when he had Martin Guptill (25 off 23) caught by David Miller.
The turning point in the game came in the 30th over when Vernon Philander (2-51) struck twice to remove Grant Elliot and Latham to leave the visitors on 158-5.
James Neesham (41) and Colin Munro (33) did a good job of restoring their team’s chase with a partnership of 71 before Wiese took the crucial wicket of Neesham with a slower bouncer to swing the momentum back in the home side’s favour.
New Zealand were in with a shout until the end but Tahir and Dale Steyn struck in quick succession to secure victory for South Africa.
The New Zealanders will be disappointed with the way they went about the chase at times; poor shot selection costing them dearly in a run-chase that was daunting but not impossible.
Earlier Hashim Amla’s first ODI century in eight innings had propelled South Africa to 304-7 after they lost the toss and had to bat first.
It was Amla’s 21st ODI hundred and equals Herschelle Gibb’s record for the most centuries for South Africa in the 50-over format.
Considering that Amla (124 0ff 126) shared a 185-run partnership with Rilee Rossouw (89 off 112), South Africa will be disappointed that they didn’t get a score closer to 350, which looked likely midway through the innings.
Rossouw had a slow start to his innings, but his patience paid off as he played an important knock at No 3 after Faf du Plessis was ruled out for four weeks with a knee injury.
Amla and AB de Villiers (9) lost their wickets within four balls of each other in the 45th over and it halted the momentum that had been build ever since Morne van Wyk (16) departed with the score on 46.
New Zealand let themselves down in the field after Rossouw was dropped in the 26th over on 32. It was a big opportunity for the visitors to break the partnership, and they again missed a chance five overs later when Amla was dropped at cover on 74 and South Africa cruising on 154-1.
Amla’s first hundred since his 159 against Ireland at the World Cup came off 109 balls and was wonderfully paced.
Rossouw was unlucky to miss out on what would have been his third ODI century when he missed a low full toss by Mitchell McClenaghan which broke the leg stump.
The Proteas will be disappointed that they couldn’t finish stronger as an attempt to pile on the runs at the end led to a flurry of run-outs.