Kane Williamson lamented a New Zealand batting display which did not adjust to a challenging pitch at Eden Park in the deciding ODI. For the second time in the series they were bowled out well inside the 50 overs, and though Williamson said conditions were difficult he believed the batsman could have been smarter.
South Africa did not find it easy, either, until the target came into view and the chase was finished in a hurry. AB de Villiers said he would have been concerned with a chase of much over 200 and had targeted working through New Zealand for 150 after nabbing their big names early.
Martin Guptill fell in the fifth over and by the end of the 16th, Williamson and Ross Taylor had also departed, the captain to a run-out after a poor call from Dean Brownlie.There had only been six lower completed first innings at the ground, the most recent of those being 141 by Sri Lanka in 2004.
"It was far from easy, but that's when fight needs to be shown to get a competitive score," Williamson said. "A lot of the time at Eden Park it's hard to know what a good score is. So that's where that assessment needs to take place and build those partnerships. We couldn't do that today. South Africa bowled well and made it very tough."
As he had in Wellington, Williamson referenced the difficulty of rotating the strike on a drop-in wicket where the ball does not run easily over the square. That was particularly evident against Imran Tahir who bowled his ten overs for a stifling 14 runs - the thriftiest ten-over spell by a spinner in New Zealand - as he benefited from batsmen hemmed in by the early pressure.
"It is tough to rotate the strike out there and when you are under pressure and lose wickets that is something you look to do to bring some momentum back and that wasn't happening," Williamson said. "You need to appreciate that at Eden Park and look to skin it another way. Perhaps our batting smarts weren't quite where we needed to be.
"We lost a number of wickets around Imran which made it difficult. We needed two guys to stick there for a death phase so we had wickets in hand so we could go harder."
Although New Zealand set a solid total in Christchurch and had the Guptill-inspired chase in Hamilton, this series has raised questions about areas of the top order, notably Guptill's opening partner and how they shuffle the middle order to accommodate the allrounders and wicketkeeper.
However, despite this hefty defeat which ended their unbeaten home record in ODI series dating back to 2014, Williamson believed it had been another season of solid white-ball results, with victories over Bangladesh and Australia.
"We would have loved to have won the series, but there's been some really, really good cricket played against some highly-ranked opposition. We've had a tough summer of one-day cricket," he said. "There have been some steps of improvement, new guys have come in and done well and that's all important moving forward. You want to breed that depth so guys can come in and make the difference. We've seen good signs of that."
New Zealand's next one-day cricket is a triangular series in Ireland in May, also involving Bangladesh, before the Champions Trophy. New Zealand's IPL-bound players, who include Williamson, Guptill, Trent Boult and Tim Southee, will be allowed to skip that series if their franchises are still in the tournament. Batsmen George Worker, Tom Bruce and Henry Nicholls will be in contention to fill in for the absentees, along with Seth Rance, Hamish Bennett and Scott Kuggeleijn with the ball.