AUCKLAND: Could Martin Guptill slot back into the New Zealand line-up after a month on the sidelines and make an immediate impact? The answer to that was an emphatic ‘yes’ as he surged to a ferocious 180 off 138 balls at Seddon Park to set up a series decider in Auckland. His innings enabled New Zealand to chase down what had appeared a challenging target of 280 with a massive 30 balls to spare. His 12th century in ODI cricket came from 82 deliveries after being saved by the DRS having been given lbw to Dwaine Pretorius on 62. Guptill dominated a third-wicket stand of 180 with Ross Taylor who made 66 off 97 deliveries, the joint second-highest for New Zealand and highest for any wicket against South Africa. Guptill finished with 11 sixes – at least four of them disappearing out of the ground – and now holds the three highest innings for New Zealand in ODIs after his 237 against West Indies in the World Cup and 189 against England in 2013. South Africa will ponder their team selection and tactics with the ball. The fact that the pitch would aid the spinners, and likely grip for the seamers, had been telegraphed a long way out. Yet they opted not to play a second frontline spinner in Tabraiz Shamsi while JP Duminy’s three overs cost 26 although AB de Villiers later defended the selection. They also did not bowl the amount of cutters and slower balls that New Zealand did mid-innings, instead the extra pace from their quartet of seamers played into New Zealand’s – and Guptill’s – hands.
With the bat it was a familiar pattern: a solid base (128 for 2), a middle-order collapse (4 for 30) and then a revival led by de Villiers and the lower order to take South Africa to 279. De Villiers, Chris Morris and Wayne Parnell plundered 100 from the last eight overs to seemingly swing the match in South Africa’s favour. But then Guptill got to work. He struck the ball with blistering power, belying his lack of match time, and the signs had been promising as early as the fourth over when he pulled Parnell onto the grass banks. He connected with an even bigger blow off Morris, speeding to his fifty off 38 deliveries and needing just another 44 for three figures. The ball rarely failed to make a thunderous crack off his bat. Each time the asking rate threatened to edge much over a run-a-ball he would manage to go over or across the boundary. De Villiers didn’t know how to stop him, a feeling many a bowler has felt against the South Africa captain. The nearest Guptill came to a problem, until a missed run out on 166 when the match had been won, was when he was struck on the helmet by Morris. He overwhelmed the innings, but his partners were important. Kane Williamson helped add 72 for the second wicket as New Zealand got themselves ahead of the rate. He was also involved in, perhaps, the crucial decision of the innings. When given lbw to Imran Tahir’s second ball he pondered the review but decided to walk off. Replays showed it was out.