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Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum conceded his side were "10 per cent" off their game as they crashed to a disappointing Twenty20 series loss to the Proteas in South Africa early today (NZ time).
With hopes high going into the deciding match in Port Elizabeth following Martin Guptill's heroics to win the second of the three matches on Monday, New Zealand couldn't quite get going today and paid the price.
Some mixed bowling allowed South Africa to pile on 179-6 after the Proteas won the toss and decided to bat.
The Black Caps mustered just 146-9 in reply with only Guptill (24 off 20) and McCullum (25 off 22) getting past 20.
The 33-run loss saw New Zealand lose the series 2-1.
The new Black Caps skipper offered no excuses.
"They played very good today and in the clutch moments they stood up and applied some pressure.
"If you look at our batting, bowling and fielding, we were probably 10 per cent off right throughout. And against a good side, they'll expose you."
McCullum had felt that a score of around 160 might have been competitive on the St George's Park ground but the Proteas took the target well beyond that, putting pressure on the New Zealand run-chase from the get-go.
"They played very well in that back end of the innings and they got 116 off the last 10 overs. So they obviously turned up the pressure there and we didn't quite respond as well as we would have liked.
"In saying that, if our top order had of got going as we saw the other night with Martin Guptill, we could have been competitive. But we just weren't quite able to put together those partnerships.
"So today we weren't quite at our best but I think throughout the series we have seen some improvements and we can take some heart out of this series."
Guptill's match-winning unbeaten 101 in East London was clearly the Kiwi highlight of the mixed series. But there were some pleasing efforts elsewhere.
Left-arm spinner Ronnie Hira continued his solid series with 1-24 off his four overs today after again being asked to open the bowling.
But the most pleasing efforts in this series came from some of the young players in the new-look side.
Auckland left-arm quick Mitchell McClenaghan took 2-24. He has enjoyed the extra pace and bounce on these wickets and genuinely troubled the Proteas batsmen.
Asked to go out and attack the opposition, McClenaghan has done just that.
He showed today why he has deserved his call-up to the test team to replace the injured Tim Southee.
The Black Caps attention now turns to the test scene with the first of the five day matches starting in Cape Town on January 2.
Before that they have a three-day warmup match against a South African XI in Paarl.
With the Proteas ranked No 1 in the world and full of players with heavyweight attributes, it's going to be a demanding series for a Black Caps side bereft of some of their top players.
McCullum was putting on a brave face when asked about the assignment now in front of his team.
"We'll try and re-channel the focus for the guys that stay on and also the test players that have arrived and work out some plans … work out where we can try and beat and attack South Africa and put them under some pressure."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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