New Zealand's batsman Martin Guptill, right, runs home safe as South Africa's bowler Rory Kleinveldt, left, attempts a run out during the Twenty20 cricket match at the Buffalo Park Stadium in East London.

South Africa 165/5 (19/19 ov)

New Zealand 169/2 (19.0/19 ov, target 169)

New Zealand won by 8 wickets (with 0 balls remaining) (D/L method),

East London - The Black Caps’ lack of stomach for a scrap was questioned after their Durban horror show, but they emphatically hit those doubts for six, as they held their nerve to beat the Proteas by eight wickets off the last ball in a thrilling T20 international at a packed Buffalo Park on Sunday night.

Even a floodlight failure, that embarrassingly took 52 minutes to sort out, couldn’t dampen the festive mood in the crowd. But the masses couldn’t have expected the amazing script that saw Martin Guptill clinch victory – and a maiden T20 international ton – off the last ball of the match.

Showing that he was well and truly over the tummy bug that had laid him low for the Durban opener, Guptill’s savage 101 off just 69 balls included nine fours and six, towering maximums, and rattled the cock-a-hoop Proteas. It also kept the series alive for a final ding-dong on Boxing Day in Port Elizabeth.

The Proteas, who looked good value in posting 165/5, again lost Richard Levi early, as his left-arm spin demons came back to haunt him again.

The burly opener had just been given a life, as Mitchell McClenaghan got fingertips to a top-edged sweep at short third man, off the bowling of Ronnie Hira.

The Kiwi tweaker got his man soon enough, though, as Levi smeared him to square-leg, where Nathan McCullum held on to end his tentative stay.

In contrast, Henry Davids was majestic at the other end, rattling up 55 off just 38 balls. His lofted, straight six off Hira was a joy to behold, and it took a stunning catch by Jimmy Neesham, who chased a skier from mid-off to just inside the fence, before a full-length dive secured a memorable grab to get rid of the dangerous Titans opener.

Faf du Plessis, meanwhile, was quietly laying the foundations for another gem of a knock at the other end. The skipper flicked, paddled and then drove powerfully to register a classy 63 off 43 balls.

While Du Plessis manipulated the field with inventive strokes, David Miller’s cameo knock of 33 from just 18 balls was brutal. He carved two sixes and two fours, and his positive running between the wickets alongside his captain ensured the Black Caps stayed on the backfoot.

They pummelled 76 off the last six overs, and based on the Kiwis’ last display with the bat, Du Plessis’s charges would have assumed that they had enough runs in the bank.

But Guptill shared a fluent 76-run stand for the opening wicket with Rob Nicol (25 off 24 balls), and did exactly what his teammates had tried too hard to do in Durban; he confronted the South Africans head-on, and delivered several, telling blows.

His treatment of debutant Aaron Phangiso was especially harsh.

Such are the margins at the highest level, Phangiso could have bowled his nemesis with his first ball in international cricket. But Guptill got just enough timber on the latest of cuts, and it sped away for four, before the lanky Kiwi then bludgeoned Phangiso for three cavernous sixes, the last of which went right out of the ground.

At 124/1, and needing 45 runs off the last five overs, the Kiwis should have cruised home.

But the loss of Brendon McCullum for a steady 17 gave the hosts a semblance of hope.

Suddenly, they required 11 off Rory Kleinveldt’s last over, and Colin Munro couldn’t get the blazing Guptill, stuck on 97, on strike. By the time he faced, four runs were needed off the last ball.

Du Plessis brought in his fielders, but Guptill stayed composed and got enough willow to smear one over cover to the fence for the victory, and a thoroughly deserved maiden century.

For those who doubted them, the Black Caps showed that they are here to compete. Big time. - Cape Times