HAVING already bagged the Twenty20 and one-day series titles, the Proteas had pleased South Africa’s brainstrust. It supported the belief that the Proteas were starting to adapt to new coach Gary Kirsten’s training methods.
Now having also sealed the Test series 1-0 – after Tuesday’s draw in the final Test at the Basin Reserve – is there a feeling of mission accomplished upon returning home?
“It’s been a terrific tour for us,” Proteas Test captain Graeme Smith said. “Any tour where you can walk away with every trophy is a tick.”
Although South Africa arrived in New Zealand as favourites the visitors have still been impressive in how they have executed their gameplans. They have soaked up pressure when the Black Caps applied it, only to hit back with greater ferocity of their own. It has resulted in series wins in both the Test and one-day formats, a feat South Africa have not achieved in New Zealand since 1999.
On Tuesday, however, South Africa were not as clinical and precise as they might have wanted to be. Bowling hero Morne Morkel, who claimed the remarkable career-best figures of 6/23, had spoken about South Africa playing “the perfect Test match” in the build-up to this final Test at the Basin Reserve. It revolved around batting first and scoring “500-plus” and then dismissing the Black Caps twice.
Morkel, however, did not take into account South Africa were going to drop a plethora of catches, following on from JP Duminy’s triple miss on the second day. Tuesday it was the turn of the AB de Villiers (two) and Alviro Petersen to spurn the opportunities. Besides the runs New Zealand, and especially centurion Kyle Williamson (103 not out), added to the total, it was the extra time spent at the crease that eventually undid South Africa.
As disappointing as the dropped catches were though, it could not take the gloss off a Test match that South Africa had dominated from the outset. There were superb individual batting performances from Petersen (156) and Duminy (103), while Vernon Philander was simply superb with the ball in New Zealand’s first innings when he claimed 6/81 en route to his record-breaking achievement of 50 Test wickets in just seven Tests.
These were all brilliant performances, but they were all outshined by the unsung hero of South Africa’s bowling attack. Man of the Match Morkel has banged away throughout this series without much success, although he always knew it was but one spell away.
Smith needs to receive recognition here for handing Morkel the new ball on a “hunch”, although the way his big fast bowler responded to the challenge was probably acknowledgment enough.
“It was a hunch. I spoke to Gary and said this is what I would like to do. We went with it and it paid off. It would have been nice if he didn’t strain a back muscle and could have bowled another 10 overs, but he did an awesome job,” Smith said.