WELLINGTON – Poor weather undoubtedly halted South Africa’s march to the top of the world test rankings after they claimed a 1-0 series win against New Zealand when the third and final test at the Basin Reserve ended in a draw on Tuesday.
Grameme Smith’s side completed the series victory courtesy of a nine-wicket win in the second test in Hamilton, with the other two matches badly affected by rain. They also won both the earlier Twenty20 and one-day international series.
The Proteas did have an opportunity to clinch a 2-0 win on the final day of the third test after Morne Morkel claimed 6-23, only for Kane Williamson to graft his second test century and ensure New Zealand scratched out a battling draw.
“It’s been a terrific tour for us,” Smith said of the way in which the side had managed to build on their victories in the Twenty20 and one-day international series into the tests.
“Any tour where you can walk away with every trophy is a tick. There have been some great performances throughout the six-and-a-half weeks.
“All teams in all formats have played well, which is what you want.”
South Africa had the opportunity to claim the world’s top test ranking if they swept the tests 3-0, but rain washed out the final day of play in Dunedin and more than seven hours in Wellington, something Smith rued.
“We’ve pretty much been on the front foot throughout this test series… (but) the weather played a big part in Dunedin and here.
“Losing close on 150-160 overs, we were the one team pushing to win… we gave ourselves an opportunity to win.
“We missed some opportunities today that would have allowed us to win two-nil (but)… I think (one-nil) is a fair reflection.”
New Zealand had been riding high on confidence after a morale-boosting victory over Australia late last year but while they showed glimpses of that kind of level of play against the Proteas, they were unable to sustain it.
“I think they deserved to win the series, don’t get me wrong,” New Zealand vice-captain Brendon McCullum told reporters. “I think they’ve been the better team throughout.
“We had them on the ropes at times but I think one-nil (in the tests) is probably a fair reflection from looking at it.”
At times, New Zealand’s bowlers, especially gnarly veterans Chris Martin and the recalled Mark Gillespie, had the Proteas on the ropes, taking clumps of wickets for very few runs at least twice.
The South Africans, however, somehow, found a way to fight their way out of the situation, none more evident in the second test when the final four wickets contributed 165 runs to give them a valuable first innings lead that proved enough as Vernon Philander tore through New Zealand’s second innings.
Philander took 21 wickets in the series, but the way in which he combined with Morkel and the express-paced Dale Steyn was probably the difference in the series.
The trio, along with Jacques Kallis, Imran Tahir and Marchant de Lange built pressure on the New Zealand batters, who were never given any free runs and were subjected to consistently hostile short-pitched deliveries.
“You don’t get too many bad balls against the best bowlers in the world,” McCullum said.
“There was never a let up in that bowling attack and they continued to come at you and never made it easy.
“You have to bat a really long time on the wicket and you have to make some really good decisions along the way,” he added in reference to some of the batsmen, himself included, making starts only to throw their wickets away with poor shots.
“We haven’t been able to do it throughout the series but we now know we have to go away and work on it and get better as players and as a batting group.”