Lack of 'batting smarts' shown as New Zealand hammered by Proteas in ODI series decider
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson lamented a lack of "batting smarts" after a meek display handed South Africa a one-day international series win in Auckland on Saturday.
After they were thumped by seven wickets in Hamilton on Wednesday - continuing the series trend of we win one, you win one - the Proteas responded with a six-wicket win in the fifth and final game at Eden Park.
Chasing just 150 for victory following the hosts soft surrender, the tourists had some nervy moments but eventually cruised to their target in 32.2 overs thanks to a counter-attacking David Miller (45 not out off 33) and composed Faf du Plessis (51 not out off 90).
While the Kiwi bowling attack had fought valiantly, they were always fighting long odds after a batting display littered with poor execution and decision-making under the pressure of a quality bowling performance.
It said plenty their top-scorer was No 8 Colin de Grandhomme with 32, and that they gifted the tourists two wickets via run-outs. Just three others made it past 20.
The Proteas bowlers were outstanding to a man, world No 1 leg-spinner Imran Tahir taking 2-14 to record the most economical 10-over spell by a South African spinner in ODIs.
Young quick Kagiso Rabada was also superb, snaring 3-25 off 7.1, while fellow seamers, Andile Phehlukwayo (2-35 off seven) and Chris Morris (1-34 off nine) provided sterling support.
An "obviously very disappointed" Williamson cut a sombre figure after his team effectively gifted South Africa the series.
"It was far from easy but that is when a lot of fight needs to be shown to build partnerships and get a competitive score.
"A lot of the time at Eden Park it is very tough to know what a good score is batting first. That assessment needs to take place and you need to build those partnerships.
"We weren't able to do that today and South Africa bowled very well and made life difficult."
As true as that last statement was, there was also no denying the soft nature of the dismissals for a number of the New Zealand batsmen.
Game four hero Martin Guptill (4) stepped away and swung for the fences, Brownlie (24) and Ross Taylor (8) played around seemingly harmless straight deliveries, while Williamson (9) himself and Santner (24) were needlessly run-out.
All that forced de Grandhomme to play an unorthodox 48-ball innings of patience, which reaped the biggest partnership of the innings, a seventh-wicket stand with Santner of 45.
In the end, though, both meant little as the final four wickets fell as easily as the first six, leaving the bowlers to produce a rabbit out of the hat that wasn't forthcoming.
"It was tough to rotate the strike and when you are under pressure and do lose a wicket that is something you want to do to get a bit of momentum back and get a partnership together, that wasn't happening," Williamson said.
"You do need to appreciate that at Eden Park and look to skin it another way. Perhaps our batting smarts weren't quite where needed to be on this ground."
South African skipper AB de Villiers paid tribute to his team's very good bowling and fielding performance.
Winning the decider at the same venue where they experienced such heartache losing the 2015 World Cup semifinal against New Zealand was also satisfying, he said.
"There's a bit of emotion in us winning the series, especially chasing under pressure. We'll enjoy the victory.
"It doesn't make it right after we lost the semi. That will never change. But as we sit here now, we've just won a game against New Zealand in a final at Eden Park, so it's a great feeling. We've come a long way since that semifinal."
The result not only clinched the visitors the series, it allowed them to reclaim the No 1 ODI team ranking they had handed back to Australia at Seddon Park.
It also ended unbeaten run in ODI series at home for New Zealand dating back to October, 2014 when the very same opposition prevailed 2-0.