| Herschelle Gibbs acknowledges cheers after reaching his century at the Wanderers Sunday. (AFP)
Johannesburg: Captain Stephen Fleming hit a brilliant career-best 134 not out to lift New Zealand to a nine-wicket victory over South Africa in a World Cup Group B match cut short by rain at The Wanderers on Sunday.
Chasing a revised target of 226, the Kiwis got home with 13 balls to spare, Fleming and Nathan Astle (a run-a-ball 54) sharing in a second-wicket stand of 140 to earn New Zealand only their second one-day win over South Africa in 13 matches.
The left-handed Fleming hammered 21 fours in 132 balls, his fourth one-day century but first in a World Cup, in a game his team needed to win to have a realistic chance of advancing to the Super Six stage.
The result could mean the end of South Africa’s World Cup, as they must now win all their remaining pool games and hope that West Indies beat Sri Lanka in Cape Town on February 28.
“It’s very difficult now (to qualify for the next stage) but we still have hope,” said South Africa captain Shaun Pollock.
“We still believe we can get through. (The revised target and) the conditions didn’t help much but, in the end, they outplayed us.”
Fleming set the tone with an opening stand of 89 with Craig McMillan, who was caught behind for 25 driving at a Jacques Kallis outswinger in the 15th over.
New Zealand were 182 for one after 30.3 overs when rain forced the players from the field for a second time. Following a recalculation based on the Duckworth-Lewis system, they were left to score 44 more runs off 51 balls for victory. Then, when 14 came off a Lance Klusener over, the result was never in question.
After taking calculated risks to get New Zealand off to a fast start, Fleming adopted a more orthodox approach and was in supreme command as he compiled a 109-ball century, having survived a regulation chance to wicketkeeper Mark Boucher on 53.
The New Zealand skipper said it was his best innings under that sort of pressure, adding: “We got together (before our reply) and said it was our last chance, let’s see what we can do.
“I’ve waited a long time for an innings like that and I’m very happy to lead the side that way.”
Earlier, opener Herschelle Gibbs smashed a run-a-ball 143 to help South Africa to a massive 306 for six in their 50 overs, reaching his 12th century in one-day Internationals.
Gibbs, who initially struggled with his timing, hammered 19 fours and three sixes before departing in the 46th over, pulling seamer Jacob Oram to McMillan at deep mid-wicket.
South Africa had got off to a flying start, coasting to 113 for one after 19 overs, but were checked briefly by Scott Styris and the slow left-arm of Daniel Vettori, who conceded just 19 runs from the next eight overs before Gibbs broke the shackles.
Left-handed opener Graeme Smith blasted five fours in a quickfire 23, before top-edging a hook off Shane Bond to be well caught by wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum, making good ground running back towards the ropes.
Gibbs then shared 66 for the second wicket with Nicky Boje (29) and 67 with Kallis (33) as South Africa cruised through the middle overs without undue risk.
Gibbs was rarely at his crisp best in the early stages and enjoyed good fortune, twice edging Andre Adams narrowly past leg-stump and also surviving a concerted appeal for caught behind off the same bowler when he was on four.
But the longer he stayed at the crease, the more confident he became. He reached his 50 from 51 balls, including a six pulled over square leg off Oram.