Having lost 100 overs over the course of the first two days, South Africa performed superbly to get themselves into a position where they could win the game heading into the final day. With an overnight lead of 274 and an entire day to bowl out a New Zealand side shorn of their captain and best batsman Ross Taylor – unable to bat after having his wrist broken by Morne Morkel in the first innings – the Proteas should have sealed a 2-0 series victory. Instead, they wasted over an hour setting a completely ridiculous target of 389, when the Kiwis would have struggled to chase down a particularly sluggish sloth, and were thwarted by a superb Kane Williamson rearguard after Morkel had ripped the top order to pieces.
Despite losing the series, New Zealand at least managed to save some face in the final hours of the contest. Prior to day five it was not a particularly memorable Test match; so much time lost to rain combined with a meek bowling performance in the first innings meant there was never any chance of the hosts salvaging the series. Mark Gillespie toiled for another five wicket haul but he arrived so late to the party that everyone had already packed up and gone home, while a good opening stand in their reply was in vain as the middle order completely failed to capitalise once again. The batting is their main concern; for the most part the bowlers have done a reasonable job but, as England are so helpfully proving in Sri Lanka at the moment, you can have the best attack in the world and still not win any games if they’ve got no runs to play with.
There is no doubt that the likes of Martin Guptill, Brendan McCullum, Taylor and Williamson are talented players, but onlyhere in Wellington did any of them turn their many starts into a century and the fact the team could only muster scores of 273, 137/2, 185, 168, 275 and 200/6 throughout the series is testament to that. In fact, excluding Tests against Zimbabwe, New Zealand have only scored over 300 once since November 2010 (against Pakistan in Wellington last January, and that was thanks almost entirely to a Vettori hundred after the top order failed again). Until the batsmen start contributing big scores on a regular basis they are never going to seriously compete at the highest level. Williamson at least showed promise in that regard this week; having scored 77 in a losing cause in the second Test, he came in with his side 1/2 here and saw that become 83/5 before anyone gave him any proper support at all. At last it arrived, first in the shape of wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk and, 30 overs later, in Doug Bracewell. Between them they saw off 60 overs of the best South Africa could throw at them and Williamson batted with a maturity which hinted at him finally coming of age. Those more experienced heads around him could learn a lot from the application which went into his innings.
Had the weather not intervened in both the first and final Tests of this tour, South Africa would’ve won 3-0 and eased to top spot in the world rankings. Given how everyone else who’s held that position recently has almost immediately forgotten how to play cricket that is perhaps a blessing, but may well be a source of frustration too. Even with the rain the tourists would have won this game had they not been, well, South African. By declaring about as aggressively as Andrew Strauss did in the Caribbean during the England tour which remains so close to our hearts, Graeme Smith not only deprived his side of at least 10 more overs to bowl New Zealand out but he also took away the option of a late burst with the second new ball as well. Smith’s subsequent whining about their opponents first innings scoring rate just made him sound ridiculous.
Preventing themselves from winning the game aside, there were a number of positives to take from Wellington; Alviro Petersen finally got some runs, though one imagines England wouldn’t be too disappointed to see him at the top of the order this summer, and JP Duminy’s hundred meant they didn’t miss Jacques Kallis’ batting. On top of that, Vernon Philander took yet more wickets while Morkel returned to form with a bang. Or indeed a crack, as he did all sorts of damage to the Black Caps’ first innings with a searing bouncer to captain Taylor.
New Zealand now have a few months off before they head to the World T20 in Sri Lanka this September; time they should probably use to learn how to compile a Test innings. South Africa’s next serious engagement comes in England in a few months time, which already has us tingling with excitement. Although that may just be the gin. The Proteas will need to be more ruthless in that three match series (moan, moan, whine, grumble, grumble) if they are to beat an English side which is formidable in its own back yard. Before that they face India in a one-off T20 international this weekend in a game we’ll certainly be previewing, covering and then thoroughly reviewing too.
The final sentence definitely is just the gin.