Durban: Tailender Andre Nel hit nine runs off the last three balls as South Africa snatched a two-wicket win over New Zealand in the first one-day international at Kingsmead Sunday.
New Zealand seemed set to end their losing streak against South Africa when batsman Jamie How and opening bowler Kyle Mills produced career-best performances.
How made 90 as New Zealand made a competitive 248 for six after being sent in. Then Mills took five for 25 as South Africa were left needing 11 to win off the last over, bowled by Mark Gillespie.
Nel could not score off the first ball of the over and was missed by Scott Styris at backward point off the next, with the batsmen running a single. Mark Boucher could only score one off the third delivery but Nel pounded the next two balls through the covers for fours. He lofted the final delivery over cover for the winning run.
How, batting at number three, made a slow start after the early dismissal of Lou Vincent, but batted with increasing confidence, hitting 11 boundaries in a 124-ball innings.
How shared stands of 72 for the second wicket with Brendon McCullum and 75 for the third wicket with Styris. Both his partners made 40.
He looked set for a maiden international century before he tried to work a yorker-length ball from Nel to the leg side and edged it into his stumps.
South Africa also found it difficult to bat against the new ball in overcast conditions and Mills struck twice in his opening spell, bowling Morne van Wyk and having Jacques Kallis caught at first slip.
But AB de Villiers, who won his second successive man of the match award, and captain Graeme Smith put on 91 for the third wicket before Smith was caught at deep midwicket.
De Villiers and JP Duminy added 72 for the fourth wicket.
De Villiers, who was dropped by Ross Taylor at backward point off Chris Martin when he had 21, went on to make 87 off 103 balls before being superbly caught off his own bowling by New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori. De Villiers drove the left-arm spinner and Vettori leaped high to hold a right-handed catch.
Mills took three more wickets in his last two overs and it seemed New Zealand were finally to have something to celebrate after being badly beaten in two Test matches and losing a Twenty20 international.
But Nel, who earlier took three for 46, gave South Africa the lead in the three-match series.