Margins are not always as tight as they seem and the 20-run difference between South Africa and New Zealand in the first ODI is deceiving. It makes the result look a lot closer than it really was - New Zealand were out of the chase in the 30th over of their reply when a double-strike from Vernon Philander took out their two best hopes of winning the game and even the 71-run partnership between James Neesham and Colin Munro did not ever really seem as though it would get them over the line. But AB de Villiers thought the victory could have been even more convincing.
"The kind of intensity and the Protea fire that we always talk about was lacking tonight," he said afterwards. "If we had that kind of energy tonight, it would have been a walkover and it wasn't. New Zealand were in the game and if you let quality sides in the game, they tend to win."
South Africa's spark shone brightly through their innings, where Hashim Amla anchored an effort that resulted in an above-par total on an early season pitch, and carried over onto the field. Dale Steyn created three chances in his first over, one with his first ball, but two of them were put down. "That sums up the way we were sort of lackadaisical in the field today," de Villiers said.
Several other dropped catches followed, most of them from balls that were skied, got lost in the lights and fell into vacant spaces, making the usually slick South African fielding effort appear more comical than clinical. De Villiers, who previously said he would never blame a team-mate for dropping a catch as long as he tried, hoped the execution would come with time as his team goes through its transition.
"I was a little but disappointed with our energy in the field as a unit, together. That probably comes with time. There were a couple new faces that need to get used to the way I captain and the way we operate as a team."
The newest of those was David Wiese, who made his debut on his home ground but did not seem as familiar with it as he should have been. Wiese started off bowling too full and was taken out of the attack after conceding 29 from his first three overs, but then returned with a selection of slower balls, which worked well. "David started slowly, it took him a while to get going," de Villiers admitted.
Almost as new is Kagiso Rabada, who debuted in this format in Bangladesh and is already establishing himself as a regular. Rabada was more economical than Steyn, was tasked with bowling at the death and seemed to enjoy the responsibility. "KG bowled well in spells. That potential and talent is definitely there; it just needs a little bit of experience. That's our responsibility to get that through to him," de Villiers said.
Young players generally bring more energy to a side so South Africa being sapped of it could have come down to the the leaking of Steyn's bowling plan after it was slipped under the wrong hotel room door the night before the game. Philander revealed it was the team's analyst, Prasanna Agoram, who "made the mistake," and said the strategy is not the be-all and end-all on the day.
"We play against these guys so much that you go with your instinct. Generally it's top of off with the odd bouncer, like Jacques Kallis used to say," Philander said, revealing yet another South African tactic.
Kane Williamson also brushed off the information and said New Zealand "didn't make too much of it," when they saw it. "It's always in the moment when you are out there that's the challenge when you bat. Everyone has got plans. A good area to most batsmen is similar, especially if the ball is doing a little bit and brings in most modes of dismissals."
The person who showed that the most was Imran Tahir, whose plans were not made public, but who controlled large swathes of the middle overs in the match and ensured New Zealand stayed in but never got ahead. "We were right in it all the way but we were never able to get in front of the game. The South African side bowled very well with the new ball and the class of Tahir in the middle was shown today," Williamson said.
De Villiers agreed: "Immi is a master of that. He knows how to turn the momentum around, how to speed things up to slow things down." And he also knows how to inject energy into a team, should de Villiers feel like they need a little extra.