South Africa killed us softly - McCullum
AB de Villiers twisted his wrists and used his bottom hand to hit the ball against the spin and through the covers. He stayed still and combined a powerful pull with a delicate whip to send another through midwicket. He dispatched a third over long-off. Only Luke Ronchi had matched him as the rest of New Zealand's batsmen lacked the subtlety for a surface which allowed South Africa to, as Brendon McCullum put it, "kill us softly," in the series opener.
"There was a lack of craft from our batsmen and that can happen when you come out of playing in the nets versus game time," McCullum said. "Let's hope that develops over the next little while because that is an area where we have been very strong over the last 12 months. This time, the class of AB de Villiers and JP Duminy came through. They killed us softly. No matter how many different things we tried, they kept responding."
De Villiers and Duminy anchored a chase that could have gone awry for South Africa, especially after they found themselves at 97 for 4 in search of 231. Duminy survived an lbw appeal before he had scored a run. Had New Zealand got a wicket then, McCullum believed they would have "probably been on top," but he acknowledged the real concerns were caused earlier.
"Not enough runs," McCullum said. "There's a probably a little bit of unknown in the pitch and that showed in our batting."
This was the first time there was an international in October in New Zealand. It was also the first match New Zealand have played at Mount Maunganui, which had hosted only one other ODI previously. The pitch was slow and forcing the pace was hard. Now that they have an idea of conditions though, McCullum expects a more assured showing on Friday.
"It definitely had a bit of tennis-ball bounce and slowed up as the game progressed," he said. "As long as we know that, and we know that now, we can put a strategy in place."
They need look no further than Ronchi to discover the correct approach at Bay Oval, which he said came down to patience. "I felt pretty good," Ronchi said. "There was a little period where Steyn and Morkel were bowling to us and we couldn't quite hit the ball but outside of that, I felt pretty relaxed and in the situation. I just tried to bat for as long as possible and stay out there for as long as possible."
Ronchi lacked support, until Trent Boult dug in for a last-wicket stand of 74 runs, and a single run, which would have given him a maiden ODI century. But he said missing out on the milestone proved less of an annoyance than the inability to take the team to victory.
"Most people would take a duck over losing a game. If you're going to win and you get nothing, that's awesome," Ronchi said. "It would have been nice to make a few more if it meant we were going to win by an extra run. For any player, you want to make runs and start the summer off well. I don't want it to be a one-off. I want to do it more and more for the team and win games."
McCullum expects the same from the rest of his players and, despite the defeat, was pleased with their willingness to compete. "Lesser teams would have rolled over a lot easier than what we did. We weren't far away."
What that means is that New Zealand will not look to make too many changes as the series progresses, although McCullum indicated they will look to "get some game time into everyone." He mentioned Mitchell McClenaghan as an option, especially because of the conditions
"He could bring some reverse swing into play and can be quite dangerous as the game develops," McCullum said, while also indicating James Neesham will keep his place at the top of the order. "I thought he looked pretty good today considering a lot of other people struggled to time the ball. He showed some good intent, some skills that he's got against quick bowling. and that he is not out of his depth in that position."
Now he just needs to add the craft.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent