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McLaren spares South Africa's blushes

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South Africa narrowly avoided a 3-0 one-day international series whitewash at the hands of New Zealand as Ryan McLaren’s final-ball six secured a tense one-wicket victory at Potchefstroom.

Set 261 to win, the Proteas once again made hard work of things with the bat, despite a composed 116 from skipper Graeme Smith.

When James Franklin dismissed Dale Steyn with the penultimate delivery of the match, South Africa still needed three to win, but McLaren, who finished unbeaten on 25, then got down on one knee to scoop a length ball over fine-leg.

Both McLaren and Lonwabo Tsotsobe had earlier picked up four wickets apiece as New Zealand recovered from a poor start to post 260 for nine.

Lonwabo Tsotsobe & Ryan McLaren

Ryan McLaren, right, celebrates with Lonwabo Tsotsobe after striking the match-winning six. Both men had earlier taken four wickets apiece

After slipping to 68 for four upon choosing to bat, the tourists were grateful to Grant Elliott, Colin Munro and Franklin, who contributed 54, 57 and 53 not out respectively.

South Africa’s chase began smoothly, with Smith and opening partner Quinton de Kock sharing 83 inside 16 overs.

Yet once de Kock departed, bowled for 31 attempting to pull Franklin, New Zealand kept their opponents in check with wickets at regular intervals.

Smith, who proved particularly strong through extra-cover and midwicket, held firm until the 46th over when he was caught at long-on off Kane Williamson with 32 required.

By that stage, McLaren had been dropped by Jimmy Neesham at midwicket, an error that would ultimately prove costly.

The expensive Mitchell McClenaghan removed Rory Kleinveldt and Aaron Phangiso in successive overs and Franklin then had Steyn caught at cow corner, but McLaren held his nerve in a thrilling finale.

New Zealand will take consolation from an unexpected series triumph, yet may rue their early struggles with the bat in this fixture.

Tsotsobe had Martin Guptill and Williamson caught behind the wicket for five and six respectively in a tight opening spell, while Watling spooned a leading edge to point off McLaren, who then saw Brendon McCullum pick out third man with an upper-cut.

Elliott and Munro, who successfully reviewed an lbw decision that went against him early on, exhibited the necessary mix of caution and controlled aggression to rebuild the innings.

Both fell to Tsotsobe shortly after passing 50, yet their efforts, together with Franklin’s late acceleration, ensured South Africa faced a challenging target - one that almost proved beyond their reach.