The opening match of the series had been played on the same ground (this was the game moved from Napier due to their outfield problems) and batting was difficult throughout. The latest surface, an adjacent strip, was not expected to be quite so helpful but spin and the use of cutters was still likely to be a key weapon.
New Zealand played two frontline spinners, plus cutters from Tim Southee and James Neesham proved effective in the middle of the innings, but South Africa chose Chris Morris over left-arm wristspinner Tabraiz Shamsi to replace Andile Phehlukwayo who had a groin injury. There was also less variation from the South Africa pacemen in conditions that de Villiers felt had eased up towards the second innings.
“They played Imran Tahir, who is the No. 1 bowler in the world, very well tonight. I’ve no reason to think it would have been different with another spinner,” de Villiers said. “I tried to bowl JP Duminy, but it didn’t turn as much as I expected it to. I felt there was more turn very early on in the afternoon, which was weird because in the last game it turned in the evening. But all in all, the wicket played pretty well over the 100 overs and we were beaten by the better team.”
Given memories of the previous game, where conditions prompted de Villiers to call them the toughest he had faced, he admitted thinking South Africa’s 279 for 8 – which included 100 off the last eight overs – would be a winning total only for Martin Guptill to make it look wholly inadequate.
“I thought it was enough because of what happened in the last game. The wicket started breaking up, turned a lot, got really slow, it was exploding, but there was not a lot of that tonight which means it was a really good ODI wicket. We just came unstuck against a better team and didn’t play our best especially in the second half. I wasn’t entirely happy with our skills. While in the rest of the series we have been bowling really well, there wasn’t a spark in the field [on Wednesday] so we need to get our act together for the final now.”
Throughout the series, South Africa have needed de Villiers and the lower to bail them out of middle-order wobbles. In Hamilton they lost for 4 for 30 to slip to 158 for 6 before Chris Morris and Wayne Parnell helped haul the innings around. Duminy, who was promoted to No. 4 in this game, and David Miller have had a lean time with 108 runs in seven innings but they retained the utmost faith of their captain.
“They are world-class players and will come to the party when it matters most which is hopefully the next game. We all go through patches but luckily we bat deep. There is no need to panic. I believe our top order is the best in the world.”
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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