Smith lauds newcomers after series victory
It was always likely that South Africa would dominate this series, but Zimbabwe's plucky performances with the bat in the Twenty20s and first two ODIs meant the scale of their crushing defeat in Benoni was unexpected. The hosts started the tour in slightly laboured fashion, their bowling and fielding well below their usual standards, but in the final game all three departments clicked and they duly ran to a record-breaking 272-run win.
"Tonight was a good night," said South African captain Graeme Smith. "It can be hard to maintain intensity when you've got 400 on the board and you clean them up cheaply, but I was happy with the intensity we showed. When you've got 400 it's really easy to drift but the bowlers really set their own standards tonight, which was encouraging.
"We've had a few issues in this series on the bowling front, but there were a lot of positives that came out at the end," added Smith. "I think we've set up a good base despite there being a couple of changes that lie ahead. There's good confidence around the group in terms of performances, and it doesn't really matter who you play, your confidence is always the key in sport."
South Africa have been forced to experiment in this series in the absence of senior players such as Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. While their rookie batsmen, Colin Ingram and David Miller, have slotted into the side seamlessly, the back-up bowling pack initially fired in fits and starts. But Rusty Theron eventually finished as the leading wicket-taker in his debut series and Wayne Parnell also improved with each outing.
"I think it's great," Smith said of their performances. "You want to see these guys coming in and performing well. Initially there was a question about the back-up bowling unit, and we had a lot of young batters coming through. It's never going to be easy replacing Steyn and Morkel, but it's nice to see guys like Rusty and some of the other guys coming in and impressing."
South Africa's Man of the Series, AB de Villiers helped himself to 231 runs in three innings, including two consecutive hundreds in Potchefstroom and Benoni. With Mark Boucher not picked for this series de Villiers also shouldered the burden of keeping wicket, taking six catches. He credited a break from the game since South Africa's tour of the West Indies concluded in June for his energetic start to the season.
"I think the break was very good for me, just getting the mind off cricket for a while," he said. "Especially after last season, which was a very long season that was a little bit of an up and down season and quite tough mentally. So getting away from the game totally for two months was really good, and I've come back really refreshed and energised."
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo