Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
Sometimes there is a phrase that lingers at the tip of tongues, teasing to come out but not quite sure how. It usually happens to people when they are searching for a term that seems to just escape them. These days, it seems to be happening to commentators, analysts and even the opposition when they are talking about the South African cricket team.
"They're just about the best in the world," you will hear them say, making sure to add the "just about" every time. It's entirely correct that they do, because South Africa really are just about the best in the world. They are ranked second in the Test standings behind England and lost the chance to go top when weather prevented the Dunedin Test from going into the fifth day. The truth is that most people probably consider them the best in the world anyway, after England crashed against Pakistan, but are a little scared to say it, because of the system that does not agree with them yet.
Whether South Africa believe that to be true themselves is a little more uncertain. They know that winning matches takes a team closer to being the best. They know that winning matches away from home takes a team even closer to being the best. And they know that winnings matches away from home inside three days is an advertisement for just how close they are. In Hamilton, they achieved all three, largely thanks to a bowling attack that is at its peak.
"It's going to be tough for us to bowl better," Graeme Smith admitted before softening it with a sub-clause. "The conditions can change and we need to adapt to them." South Africa's attack has showed that it can adapt. On two pitches that have not offered much, in Dunedin and now here, they have run through New Zealand.
Their four seamers each offer a different strength - Vernon Philander with his accuracy, Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis with swing, and Morne Morkel with bounce - and they are making the major incisions. Even the bowler who appears to be the weakest-link in a strong chain, legspinner Imran Tahir, has contributed. "I'm sure he [Imran] would love a four-for or five-for somewhere, but ultimately he's doing his role," Smith said. "He's going at sort of 2.8 [runs per over], so he's holding the game for us. I'm hoping that when we get on that real turner that he'll come to the party then and pick up some crucial wickets. But for the moment I think he's doing a good job, and we all still have a lot of faith in him and are comfortable with where we sit with him."
Where South Africa can improve is with their first-innings showings with the bat. It is the only area of their game that Ross Taylor can identify a weakness in and it's something that has started to gnaw at Smith. "We can certainly [do with] stringing some batting performances together, particularly in the first innings," he said. "We were a bit soft at times."
However, even when they fell into uncertainty, like at 88 for 6 in the first innings in Hamilton, South Africa have found a way to climb out. Taylor described it as "crucial times when we [New Zealand] were on top but we didn't ram it home and put South Africa under more pressure." While New Zealand failed to seize the advantage, South Africa were able to find a way and it's the ability to do that that Smith believes will make them the best in the world, whether people want to say it or not.
"I remember playing Australia at their best. You competed and had your moments, but they always had an extra gear," he said. "I'd like to think we have an extra gear even though we haven't been at our best at times in the two Test matches. When we've needed to show it, we have. At 88 for 6 it was a bit squeaky and [to get about] 150 runs from there was a good effort, to get into the lead from that was a good effort from us. We stepped up with the ball that afternoon. Obviously, we found another gear when it was needed, but we would like to perform at that high level throughout."