SOUTH Africa's hopes of staying alive in the one-day cricket series against New Zealand evaporated in the space of 25 deliveries in Kimberley last night.
Instead, the Black Caps won by 27 runs to claim the three-match rubber with a game to spare. In reply to the visitors' 279, the Proteas were bowled out for 252 with five balls left.
In all, five South Africans were run out in a poor display of one of the game's most basic skills against opponents in fiery fielding form.
Although the Kiwis' success will not erase the memory of the thrashings by an innings they endured in both the test matches they played against the Proteas on this tour, it represents a remarkable comeback as this was their only series win in any format in SA.
New Zealand's 279/8 was significantly shy of the total they should have reached, considering the platform they were given by Kane Williamson and his career-best 145 not out.
But that proved enough on the night to down a SA side who, deprived of the suspended AB de Villiers, the injured Hashim Amla and the rested Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn, were bowled out for 252 after being in control at 167 for one at one stage.
The 25 fateful deliveries encompassed the dismissals of Graeme Smith, Faf du Plessis and Colin Ingram.
Smith was run out when he and Ingram tried to take three to James Franklin, who ran hard to chase the ball down at deep third man.
Franklin's straight arrow throw to Brendon McCullum ended as fine an innings as Smith has played in several years. He looked in complete control for his 66, which was part of a stand of 129 he shared with Ingram.
Eight balls later, Du Plessis was sent back and run out – this time by Nathan McCullum's scrumhalf dive pass from extra cover, which hit the stumps directly.
It was down to Ingram, who was in sublime form for his 79, to get as much as possible of the job done. But, 17 deliveries after Du Plessis's dismissal, Ingram tried to smack Nathan McCullum over mid-off where BJ Watling timed his leap perfectly to take a handsome catch.
From 167/1, SA had crashed to 180/4. There was no way back from there, rendering Friday's game in Potchefstroom irrelevant.
Williamson, who took guard after Martin Guptill's customary early departure – he recorded his fourth duck in six innings in SA – kept his head impressively despite scraps of support from most of his New Zealand team-mates.