New Zealand cricketers walk tall in ODIs
In sport, transition is usually a slow process. Players learn from harsh defeats and gradually adapt their games to become more competitive.
Given the disastrous result in their two-match test series against South Africa last month, most would have expected to have seen a Black Caps side content with winning the small battles in the recent one-day series against the world's number one team - taking the small wins, but perhaps conceding that the bigger ones, such as a series victory, were a bridge too far.
But nothing was further from the truth over the past week.
Despite losing yesterday's third and final one-dayer against South Africa in a thrilling last-ball finish in Potchefstroom, New Zealand created history by winning their first series in the Republic - and restored some faith in the side's ability to grit it out against the world's best.
Indeed, had Ryan McLaren managed only a single off James Franklin's final delivery, this battered and bruised New Zealand side would have created an even more impressive first, and become the first-ever international side to sweep South Africa at home.
Graeme Smith's knock, a well-measured 116 off 130 balls, will ultimately be the difference in the history books at Senwes Park as the hosts chased down New Zealand's 260 for 9, but skipper Brendon McCullum talked up his team's fighting qualities yesterday.
"It would have been great to win the series three-nil, but winning the series, achieving what we've achieved in this series and even how we've played today as well - we've shown the characteristics that we want to be known for," he said.
After the test series careened from horror to horror for New Zealand, the cricketing public back home asked one simple question: where was the grit? The natural guts that Kiwi cricket teams used to show?
Well, it's back. All three clashes were tight, tense affairs with gritty rearguards, fighting efforts with the ball in hand and sublime throw-yourself-at-anything fielding.
James Franklin (53 not out) personified that grit best with the bat yesterday, helping battle his side through to a competitive total, while the livewire Nathan McCullum, who took 1 for 35 in his 10 overs, was Franklin's counterpart in the field.
"I thought we showed some real character and some real fighting qualities to hang in there again, when we were behind the eight-ball, and get ourselves back in the game," the younger McCullum said.
Veteran batsman Grant Elliott (54) played a key role for the Black Caps when batting, while South African-born Aucklander Colin Munro showed glimpses of why he deserved a one-day call-up with his 57 runs, off 62 balls.
Along with the older McCullum, Kyle Mills impressed (2 for 40) with the ball while Kane Williamson continued to show his knack as an annoying asset for the team, also picking up 2 for 40.
But it would be McLaren's nerve that would snatch victory away from the Black Caps, rescuing the match for the hosts after they lost seven wickets for 93 late in the game.
"From our point of view, we knew that if we could put some pressure on that middle order with a fair amount of runs to go in the game, we'd give ourselves a real opportunity," the skipper said.
"Again, as it did the other night, it didn't come as quickly as what we would have liked. But we managed to still put some pressure on them, got ourselves an opportunity [to] take it to the last ball with a live shot in the game."
The Black Caps fly home early next week and preparations are already beginning for the upcoming tour by England, the world's number two-ranked test team.
The side had to be allowed to "digest" their achievements of the past week, McCullum said, but it was also important to let players who struggled in the test matches against South Africa get an opportunity against England to show what they've learnt.
"There is obviously some of our key players still to come back into the fold, but it would be nice to protect the core group of that team to show that we've learnt from the experiences we got."
Sunday Star Times