'Levi set the base for us' - de Villiers
When Richard Levi was first picked in a South African squad he looked likely to play his first match on his home ground, Newlands, against Australia. It would have been a dream debut but it did not happen. Levi occupied a spot in the dug-out for both matches in the series while Graeme Smith kept his place at the top.
It seemed a waste of a promising young talent, similar to what Rusty Theron experienced at the World Twenty20 in the West Indies in 2010, when he was included in the squad and did not play a single match. Eventually, Levi got his chance but in an almost entirely different environment.
Levi wore his country's colours for the first time in Christchurch to play a tour match against Canterbury in the name of Earthquake Relief. It was not exactly the big debut he could have got but he made it count with a blistering 63 off 32 balls.
That his innings was speedy and sensational was expected, that he would score more runs than the No. 3 to 8 batsmen put together was not. Without Levi's knock, South Africa would not have come close to AB de Villiers' target of "at least 160". Even with it, they fell 10 short but it proved enough to beat the hosts in a competitive warm-up for South Africa's new-look Twenty20 side.
"Richard Levi played unbelievably well," de Villiers said. "He set the base for us and we didn't cash in." Levi drove and smacked the ball square with authority, bringing up his half-century at a strike-rate of over 200. He could have gone on to score many more had he not backed away to the legside before coming in to play a shot and missing completely.
Still, the opposition were impressed with Levi's strength and self-assurance and even offered him a pointer for how teams may target him in future. "He looked like he can hit the ball pretty hard," Peter Fulton, Canterbury opening batsmen said. "Against New Zealand, in the real stuff, he might get a few round his ears to test him out because didn't see too much of him off the back foot. But, there's no doubt he can strike the ball and if you bowl in his areas, he is certainly going to hit you."
The rest of South Africa's batting did not make that much of an impression as they struggled against disciplined spin bowling from Canterbury. "It's all about losing wickets. We lost a couple of wickets at the wrong time," de Villiers said. "The spinners really pulled it back nicely for them and we just couldn't find a base after that."
Colin Ingram, who has yet to find his feet after being recalled last month, de Villiers and Hashim Amla were all dismissed in the space of three overs, leaving South Africa's middle order struggling with a familiar softness. "We had to rebuild after that and that took a bit of time. It's tough to find your feet in this game [Twenty20 cricket], it happens so quickly," de Villiers said.
The bowlers did not suffer from any of the same rustiness. They had Canterbury all but drowned out at 39 for 6 and even power-hitting from Matt McEwan and Matt Henry could not do enough to take them over the line. To have been pushed all the way was something de Villiers was pleased with, saying it allowed South Africa to assess where they are, even though it was only a Twenty20. "It's a televised game and you don't want to lose to a domestic team in a televised game, your first game away from home and your first game of the tour," he said. "We had to do the basics really well. I thought we did it alright, not exceptionally well but it was a good start for us on this trip."
The upcoming series against New Zealand is expected to be a competitive and closely fought one and de Villiers said South Africa are preparing for a tough opposition. "New Zealand are an amazing cricket team. At home they really know their conditions extremely well," he said. "It's going to be tough for us to get on top and when we do get on top, the secret is to cash in. That's going to be key, especially away from home."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent