Williamson, Gillespie shine in tough series
New Zealand lost the series 0-1 but showed enough pluck to stand up against a strong South African bowling line-up. While the experienced players struggled, young players made their mark. ESPNcricinfo runs the rule over the 15 players New Zealand used during the series.
The 21-year old Williamson was the most promising player to emerge out of the series for New Zealand. In the future, this may be remembered as his coming of age, as he stood up to an attack that is regarded as one of the best in the world at the moment. Williamson was New Zealand's youngest batsmen but proved their most mature, and was the only one to score a century. After looking out of his depth in his first three innings, he showed he belonged with an important half-century at Seddon Park before an impressive hundred at the Basin Reserve. Both times, he batted with the tail, taking the strike if needed, wearing the blows, surviving the chances and refusing to be rattled. Graeme Smith praised his technique and mental strength and even slipped in a suggestion that Williamson's hundred may come to be spoken of in the same way Jacques Kallis' first century in Melbourne is.
For a man who was told two years ago that he would have to give up Test cricket, finishing as New Zealand's leading wicket-taker in the series is an effort to be proud of. He bowled through pain to take 11 wickets, including two five-wicket hauls. Aggression was the main ingredient of his success but he also made use of swing and subtle movement. Inconsistency affected him almost as much as it did New Zealand's other bowlers and he veered sharply between ultra-effective and ineffective. He provided entertainment with the bat and in the post-match press conferences, and looks ready for a longer second stint as an international cricketer.
New Zealand's season was bookended by Bracewell's heroics, with the ball in Hobart, against Australia, and with bat in Wellington, against South Africa. His match-saving partnership with Williamson in Wellington may be remembered more than any of the nine wickets he took in the series. Bracewell was New Zealand's second highest wicket-taker and played important supporting roles to Gillespie and Chris Martin. His best showing came when he assisted Martin in engineering South Africa's collapse in the first innings of the Dunedin Test, with a crafty exhibition of pace and movement.
Although he did not quite find the mojo he had against South Africa in the past, Martin was still successful and always looked threatening. His three wickets in two overs in Dunedin started New Zealand's series with hope and he was able to live up to expectations throughout the series. He was the most consistent bowler, moved the ball across the left-handers and found swing. He also played an important mentoring role to the rest of the quicks, most of whom were inexperienced.
Kruger van Wyk
The South African-born wicketkeeper took his chances, literally and figuratively, to give New Zealand an interesting selection dilemma for the wicketkeeping position. He was tidy and energetic behind the stumps and waited patiently for his first catch, which only came in the second match. A diving effort saw him open his account with the dismissal of Graeme Smith. He made a few keeping errors but his contributions with the bat could extend his run in the Test side, even when BJ Watling returns to full fitness. Coming in at No.7, van Wyk was not expected to be the fourth highest run-scorer for New Zealand. His innings were gutsy, feisty and showed his ability to deal with pressure. His partnership with Williamson in the Wellington Test was crucial to New Zealand batting out a draw.
McCullum was New Zealand's second highest run-scorer and was one of the few pillars of strength in the line-up. He was moved down to No. 3 and coped with it by employing an aggressive approach for most of his time at the crease. It paid off, to a point. McCullum's inability to control his aggression, particularly the pull shot, caused him to make what he called "dumb mistakes." He gave away his wicket away twice after scoring half-centuries and, as one of New Zealand's senior batsmen, would have been disappointed to end the series without a big score.
Taylor tried to lead from the front with the bat but did not always succeed. He was part of two partnerships with McCullum, in Dunedin and Hamilton, that could have put New Zealand in dominant positions. In playing unnecessarily rash strokes, Taylor made the same mistakes as the rest of the batsmen. As a captain, he tried to protect New Zealand's weak batting by opting to bowl first on the two occasions he won the toss. His decision backfired In Wellington as the bowlers struggled in the wind. He will be left wondering whether New Zealand's first innings in Wellington would have turned out differently if a Morne Morkel short ball had not broken his forearm.
He had the toughest job of all New Zealand's batsmen - facing the new ball - and he negotiated it without disgracing himself. Guptill showed staying power and a good temperament. He put up a determined fight in most of his innings but was guilty of giving his wicket away after getting starts. On the back of a streak of half-centuries in the limited-overs games, more was expected from him. Guptill ended strongly, with an innings of 59 in the first innings of the third Test.
Three consecutive hundreds in the Plunket Shield, albeit in the middle order, saw Flynn replace Rob Nicol at the top of the New Zealand line-up for the third Test. He did his selection justice with a patient 45 in more than two and a half hours at the crease, despite being talked up as being a player who had worked on his attacking game since he last played for New Zealand in 2009. He assessed the situation well at the Basin Reserve, saw off a vicious attack and displayed a range of shots that can only bode well for the future. Like most of New Zealand's batsmen, he succumbed to the nagging consistency of Vernon Philander and departed after a start.
The player that caused the most debate in the New Zealand squad, Vettori faced constant questions over his role in the side. Two issues nagged him: that he was batting too high, at No. 6 for the first two Tests, and that he had lost his ability to create magic with the ball. Neither was entirely his fault. Vettori was forced to bat higher because of the decision to field just five specialist batsmen. The result was that when he walked to the crease it was usually with New Zealand in the middle of a collapse, and he was tasked with trying to rescue them. On surfaces that did not facilitate turn, he could not have been expected to do much more with the ball. He was a workhorse, bowling the most number of overs for New Zealand and tying up an end.
General sentiment in New Zealand was that Boult was unlucky to be dropped after only playing the Dunedin Test. He performed adequately in that match with the biggest criticism being that he was expensive in the first innings and pacy without being penetrative enough for a strike bowler. His late blitz with the bat at the end of the first innings gave New Zealand the advantage of a lead.
With just one match in the series, after recovering from a broken finger, Brownlie did not present much to judge him on. He made two starts but did not push on. He is known as a player with a bit of fight in him, and glimpses of it came through in New Zealand's second innings in Wellington.
Southee's axing after one match caused a stir in New Zealand. He was rightly sent back to the Plunket Shield to work on his action, which he was rushing through, causing him to lose his lines. He went wicketless in Dunedin and leaked runs.
Nicol was given a chance to transfer his aggression from the one-day game to the Test arena but found himself in the deep end. Nicol's technique came into question as he struggled to read lines and lengths and was too often cramped up by South Africa's quicks. He drew some sympathy for his effort in the second innings in Dunedin, when he survived being hit a number of times before tamely offering a catch to cover. He did not survive until the third Test and was dropped after four woeful innings, in which he collected just 28 runs.
As the leading wicket-taker in the Plunket Shield who was eligible for national selection (South African-born Neil Wagner had the most number of scalps but will only qualify in April), Arnel's comeback was highly anticipated. It turned out to be equally disappointing. He was the weakest link of New Zealand's attack in Hamilton, particularly in the first innings, when they were on top of South Africa for a substantial period. He went wicketless and was expensive, failing to apply any pressure or find any consistency.
Edited by Devashish Fuloria
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent