Graeme Smith and Ross Taylor do not have much in common. One is an experienced captain and a confident talker, the other a novice in terms of leadership and neat with his words. One shrugged in his acceptance of the drawn Dunedin Test, with the knowledge that his bowlers could well have blasted their way to victory, the other beamed, hoping his batsmen would have had the wherewithal to withstand.
New Zealand needed 264 runs with eight wickets in hand on the final day, setting the match up for a photo finish. It ended up a damp squib, something both captains were disappointed by, with Smith the one who clearly expected more. "We expected this, so that's why we declared when we did yesterday. We were hoping to have a bit of a go at them," he said. "We were aiming for about four or five down with a second new ball around the corner, [then] I think we would have been in with a shot."
Taylor was less vocal about New Zealand's chances and given that they would have to record their most successful run chase in history, one can see why. Although both he and Brendon McCullum had settled in on a tricky pitch, he admitted that nothing short of a supreme effort would have been good enough. "It would've have taken some good batting," Taylor said. "Brendon and I would have had to bat for a while just to dent their attack."
The suggestion to both was that perhaps the shared spoils was as good as it was going to get, with implications that South Africa should get better in the next match, while New Zealand might struggle to keep up. "The first two days we weren't at our best but we improved as the test went on," Smith said. He threw out the possibility of jet lag, change of format and need to adjust to weather conditions as possible reasons for South Africa lumbering off the blocks but warned that they are intent on "starting well," in Hamilton.
Taylor did not take the bait. Instead, he implied it was insulting to assume that New Zealand were not up on the same level as some of the bigger Test nations. "We played [well against] Australia a while ago, so it's no surprise to us that we're competing with South Africa," he said. "We know we need to keeping lifting our game in the next 10 days of cricket, if we do that we'll be competitive in the next two Tests."
While Smith has an eye on the No. 1 ranking, which is out of South Africa's reach for now because a 3-nil result is no longer possible, Taylor's view is focussed on smaller things. He described it as simply making sure "the batsmen make runs and the bowlers take wickets", but in reality it's far bigger than that. With five specialist batsmen and four seamers, New Zealand need to ensure everyone understands their role clearly because there isn't often someone to pick up the slack.
In this match, Taylor was one of the batsmen who was aware of what he needed to do. The one similarity he shared with Smith is that they both found form in the match, Smith with a half-century and a century, Taylor with 44 and 48 not out. Both had returned from injury, Smith was hit on the arm in the first net session he had in New Zealand and Taylor was out for almost six weeks with a calf injury, and both thought the time they spent in the middle was much needed.
"I was feeling good when I arrived in New Zealand and I felt after the 70  and the hundred [the fourth and fifth ODIs against Sri Lanka in January] in South Africa, a lot came off my shoulders," Smith said. "To play this game and to do well was great, and to build on all that work I did before here was great."
Taylor had a longer time away from the crease due to a calf injury and a less emphatic performance in the Test, but said there were encouraging signs for him going forward. "I was pretty nervous going into the series, not having had a bat beforehand," Taylor said. "I would've liked to get a bigger score, but it was nice [to score a few runs] because you [worry about] whether you're going to come in rusty. The pitch was pretty flat, so I don't want to get too carried away, but you can only play on what wicket you're on. I'll take it as a pass mark."
Form will be important because the challenges of batting are set to become bigger. Smith said that he overheard Taylor saying he had asked for a green track in Hamilton in his post-match television interview and expects the venue to have more in it for the bowlers.