The South African management has made it clear that their team has not come close to a perfect game on this tour and, while their batsmen might have liked a couple more runs on Saturday at Wellington, the victory at the Westpac that gave the visitors a 2-1 series lead was pretty close to clinical.
South Africa won by 159 runs as they put up 271 for eight on a tricky drop-in pitch at the Hurricanes’ rugby ground and then delivered a near perfect performance in the field as they bowled New Zealand out for a paltry 112 runs. It was as brutal a beating as you will see on an international cricket field.
Captain AB de Villiers (85 runs off 80 deliveries) was the man of the match as he rescued his side from a precarious 180 for six in the 39th to a respectable score. In the process he became the fastest batsman in history to 9000 runs, managing the feat in 205 innings, an extraordinary 23 innings quicker than Saurav Ganguly who held the record before him.
Pundits like Kepler Wessels said at the break that South Africa easily had enough runs on this wicket but in the modern era of ODI cricket we find that 270 is seldom more than a par score unless the ball is rolling on the ground or turning square. He could not have been more correct in his judgement.
Both teams made one change from that cliff-hanger of a match in Christchurch as Ish Sodhi the spinner sat out for Lockie Ferguson the seamer, and Chris Morris had to make way for Kagiso Rabada, who returned to spearhead the SA attack.
De Villiers won the toss and elected to bat on a lovely day for cricket as the sun shone on the capital city of Wellington and a healthy crowd turned out at the ‘Cake Tin’. Hashim Amla (7) again fell early – indeed he has been all or nothing of late – but Quinton de Kock (68 off 70) continued his rich vein of form as he made the pitch look easy and added 73 runs with Faf du Plessis for the second wicket. Colin de Grandhomme (2-40) then kept the visitors in check as he varied his line and length and dismissed both stars in the same over.
JP Duminy (16) stayed with de Villiers for a little while but was run out with an excellent direct throw from Tim Southee, soon after he survived what should have been an easy stumping. David Miller then lasts only a handful of balls and Dwayne Pretorius (11) found himself at the crease earlier than he would have expected.
De Villiers’ captain’s mandate was obviously to bat out the overs with the tail and he couldn’t have done a better job as he survived to the penultimate over, all the while ensuring that he got most of the strike and punished the bad balls. The innings, played in difficult circumstances, showed why is worth the big bucks. A neat unbeaten effort from Wayne Parnell (35 off 32) represented more than a cameo and helped that player stake his claim as a genuine all-rounder.
It did not take more than a few overs for the Black Caps to find themselves in dire straits as both openers fell quickly and they were reduced to 11 for two, a position from which they would never really recover. Kane Williamson (23) and Ross Taylor (18) showed some determination but scoring was never easy and the ball behaved increasingly inconsistently and wickets continued to tumble.
New Zealand wickets fell like nine-pins as they stuttered to an ignominious 112 all out.
The Proteas deserve substantial credit for bowling and fielding superbly. Only Tahir (1-23) went for more than four runs to the over and each of the four seamers was rewarded with at least two wickets. Once again, Dwayne Pretorius (3-4) bowled with magnificent control as he picked up three and conceded less than one run per over. Also a genuine all-rounder, Pretorius scored a 50 in in his debut and bowled beautifully in both matches, which would no doubt have got the selectors’ hearts missing a beat. Boy, does he look like a fierce competitor.
The hosts will have three days off before the fourth game in this five-match series, on Wednesday, and they will have some tough questions to ask themselves as to how it all went to wrong in Wellington. They are a side that one can never write off and there is little doubt that this series will still hold plenty of intrigue.