AUCKLAND - A series that comes down to its final match is always one worth watching but that is not the only thing that makes the battle between South Africa and New Zealand so compelling. In between both sides handing out comprehensive beatings to each other, with South Africa's perhaps the more comprehensive of the two, the smaller battles have made for entertaining viewing.
Will Tim Southee decide to say anything to Richard Levi again? Is Kyle Mills still trying to find the magic words he uttered in the World Cup quarterfinal 11 months ago to rile South Africa up? Has Morne Morkel got the mean streak needed to repeat his threat about the short ball to Martin Guptill? The answers to these questions will reveal which team has the mettle to win what is effectively a final.
For South Africa, the must-win condition could mean much more, given their history in pressure situations. After the emphatic statement Levi allowed them to make in the previous match it would seem as though they are up for it, but will need more from some of the other members of the XI.
New Zealand's seven-match winning streak was broken by Levi and after dominating their home summer against Zimbabwe, this match will be vital in setting the tone for the upcoming challenge in the longer formats against South Africa. The Hamilton match exposed some of their weaknesses, which they will hope to fix with the inclusion of Jesse Ryder and a more committed bowling effort. They will also be honouring the victims of the Canterbury earthquake, which took place a year ago, giving them a sentimental reason to want to do well.
Whoever wins the series will move to No. 2 on the ICC Twenty20 rankings, something both teams have admitted does not mean much to them. What victory will do is start their preparations for the World Twenty20 in September on a positive note.
He has not played for New Zealand since sustaining a calf injury after the famous Test win in Hobart, but now Jesse Ryder is back. Having watched Richard Levi's hundred against his countrymen, he will be glad he is. Known for his fearless and forceful approach to batting, Ryder will look to beef up a New Zealand line-up that has appeared thin after the top three. He has also lost, according to him, 3.5 kilograms (although local media say it looks closer to 10) and will want to show off his fitter physique.
Albie Morkel was spoken about as the missing piece in South Africa's 2011 World Cup middle-order, which collapsed under pressure against New Zealand. Now, back in the setup, Morkel has a chance to test this theory.
He has not been given much opportunity in the series so far - he batted and bowled in the first match but did neither in the second - but if the situation arises where a player with big-match temperament is needed, Morkel might be the right fit.
Jesse Ryder returns for New Zealand and will likely slot in in place of Colin de Grandhomme, who has been unconvincing so far. Although New Zealand's bowling took a pasting on Sunday, they are likely to stick with the same attack.
South Africa may not want to tinker with a winning XI but if they attribute the victory largely to Richard Levi's innings, they may require some changes in the bowling department. Marchant de Lange's inexperience showed and Rusty Theron may get another opportunity to prove his death bowling prowess.
NEW ZEALAND: Martin Guptill, Rob Nicol, Brendon McCullum (capt & wk), Jesse Ryder, James Franklin, Kane Willamson, Nathan McCullum, Doug Bracewell, Tim Southee, Ronnie Hira, Kyle Mills
SOUTH AFRICA: Hashim Amla, Richard Levi, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Justin Ontong, Albie Morkel, Johan Botha, Wayne Parnell, Rusty Theron, Marchant de Lange, Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe