New Zealand's bid for a maiden one-day international series win in South Africa has been boosted by the suspension of Proteas skipper AB de Villiers.
De Villiers will miss the remaining two matches - beginning in Kimberley on Wednesday morning (1.30am NZT) - after he pleaded guilty for his role in his side's slow over rate in the Black Caps' one-wicket victory in the first game.
Match referee David Boon found the hosts to be six overs short of their target while bowling in Paarl, handing de Villiers a two-match suspension and fining the entire South African team their match fees.
Under the International Cricket Council's code of conduct, any slow rate which sees a side two overs short is a serious offence and, as a result, Faf du Plessis will take the reins for the rest of the series.
De Villiers, the world's second-ranked batsman, averages almost 50 in the one-day game and his absence is a further blow to a side already missing Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy, both of whom were rested for the series.
The Proteas probably thought they could cruise past New Zealand without the aid of the experienced pair, but they face two must-win games to avoid the ignominy of dropping a home series to a team ranked lower than Bangladesh.
The Black Caps, on the other hand, hold a golden chance to walk away from the tour with an unlikely notch in their belts. South Africa were ranked top in ODIs when New Zealand arrived and, although they dropped to third in the latest rankings, they are a major scalp for a side with few to their name.
And considering their pedigree in the Republic, a series triumph would have to rank among one of the better achievements of the New Zealand cricket team, especially given the seemingly endless Ross Taylor captaincy saga, the absence of one of their best batsmen (Jesse Ryder) and one of their best bowlers (Tim Southee), and the devastating outcome of the test series.
Not only have New Zealand never tasted success in an ODI series in the Republic, before this tour they had won only one match against the Proteas in their home conditions.
They lost twice to the hosts at the 1994 Mandela Trophy, before tasting twin thrashings in 2000 (5-0) and 2005 (4-0). A breakthrough victory came in Port Elizabeth in 2007 but was sandwiched by two defeats, while South Africa also beat the Black Caps at the 2009 Champions Trophy.
That all adds up to an overall record of one win and 14 losses before the current series, putting into context just how improbable an accomplishment this would be for a depleted team.
Before they pop the champagne corks, though, New Zealand will have to work for a win in the next two games. This is still a stacked South African squad - featuring the world's No 1 batsman (Hashim Amla) and three of the top 10 bowlers (Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn) - and they won't go down without a fight, even shorn of their talismanic skipper.
- APNZBy Kris Shannon Email Kris