It does not get closer to perfect than this: Philander took 21 wickets, by far the most in the series, at an average of 15.47. He was Graeme Smith’s go-to man and every time he had the ball in his hand something seemed certain to happen. His disciplined lines and lengths frustrated the opposition batsmen while swing, reverse swing and seam movement troubled them. Philander barely put a foot wrong as he became the second fastest bowler to 50 Test wickets. His start to Test cricket has been dreamlike: the second innings in Wellington was the first time in his seven-Test-old career that he went without a wicket in an innings. He also displayed his ability with the bat, playing two important lower-order innings.
Smith, world cricket’s longest-serving current Test captain, was the leading run-getter in the series, with 282 runs at 56.40. He was outstanding with both bat and as captain. A century in Dunedin, to set up a tough chase for New Zealand, and two half-centuries, including a matchwinning one in Hamilton, completed his return to form, which started with a hundred against Australia in November. In the field, he handled his attack with careful calculation, ensuring the quicks were never overbowled. Smith’s declaration in the third Test may be criticised for coming too late, but that is harsh. With South Africa leading the series 1-0, he had no reason to give New Zealand any chance of winning.
Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel
Philander stole the spotlight but it would not have been quite as bright without Steyn and Morkel. Even though the pair, collectively, did not take as many wickets as Philander, without them South Africa’ attack would not have had the various dimensions it possessed. They ensured the pressure was always on.
Steyn cranked the pace up as the series wore on, hitting speeds around 145 kph regularly in spells. In Hamilton, he helped Philander affect a New Zealand collapse of five wickets for no run. Steyn swung the ball, while Morkel put in his most disciplined performance in a while, extracting good bounce and ensuring batsmen knew he was capable of hurting them. Steyn and Morkel’s best performance as a pair came in the first innings of the Wellington Test, when they used the short ball to exceptional effect.
AB de Villiers
The scorecards will show de Villiers’ two highest scores in the series as 83 and 68, numbers that do no justice to the value of those two innings. The 83 came with South Africa in trouble, at 88 for 6 in Hamilton. de Villiers sewed the innings back together and steered the side to a valuable lead. The 68 was an audacious innings in Wellington featuring a feast of daring shots as he put on quick runs to allow Smith to declare and give South Africa a chance of winning the third Test. His catching let him down in Wellington, where he dropped two at slip, but that was a small botch on a tour during which his usual creativity and spunk lifted the side when they were in trouble.
He only had one chance and took it, a sign that Duminy is ready to be a Test cricketer again. After two years on the sidelines, he made his point with a hundred in Wellington. Although he started off in one-day mode, he soon settled and showed a particular aptitude for dealing with the short ball, something that has troubled him in the past. Though usually one of the best fielders in the squad, Duminy took some of the sheen of his comeback performance with three dropped catches in the match.
|Alviro Petersen scored a century in the third Test © Getty Images
It took Petersen two Tests to find his feet but when he did he managed to stand, walk and run all at once. In his first four innings, he struggled to adjust to the pace of the pitches in New Zealand, tried to be too aggressive and insisted on moving across the stumps, resulting in him being dismissed lbw twice. In the first innings of the Wellington Test, his 156 served as more than adequate proof that he could make the necessary changes to play international cricket in foreign conditions. His ton was punctuated with pulls in its early stages and classic drives as it matured. His challenge in the future will be to put in big performances even when he is not under pressure.
It was an unusually quiet tour for someone who has been prolific against New Zealand. Amla scored two half-centuries and did not convert either into a hundred. With his calm approach to the game, he steered South Africa through challenging periods without much fuss. His tour ended on a painful note when he was hit in the groin off an inside edge, a blow which hampered his movement. He managed to bat for an hour after the injury, but when he was dismissed he had to be taken for emergency surgery. Word from the team camp was that he was battling to walk by the time South Africa left New Zealand.
A sublime century in the second innings of the Dunedin Test put South Africa in a commanding position. Kallis was also used as an impact bowler, coming on for short bursts and swinging the ball at pace. He left another lasting impression on the series. His comment that “99% of cricketers” do not believe ball-tracking is as accurate as the technical team wants them to believe it is almost caused Ian Taylor, creator of Virtual Eye, to withdraw the technology from the series. A neck strain, sustained in training before the third Test, ruled him out of the match and served as a stark reminder of his importance to the South Africa side. They had to sacrifice their frontline spinner to include both a batsmen and a fourth fast bowler to replace Kallis.
Rudolph had one very good Test and two ordinary ones. He showed that he can translate his stunning domestic form into international success in Dunedin. A composed half-century in the first innings helped South Africa recover from Chris Martin’s post-tea bust of three wickets in two overs, and a hundred sprinkled with some of the best drives in the game put the visitors into a dominant position in the second innings. He spent limited time at the crease in the other two matches but crossed an important bridge in showing his suitability for his new middle-order role.
In what was quite possibly the penultimate tour of his career, Boucher provided material for both sides of the arguments about whether or not he should still be in the Test side. He put in some understated but important performances with the bat, building with Rudolph in Dunedin and helping de Villiers put South Africa in the lead in Hamilton. His best innings came in Wellington, when a gritty 46 increase South Africa’s total. With the gloves, though, he made mistakes that will annoy him, twice letting chances go between himself and Smith at first slip. He held on to every other catch that came his way, ending the tour on 999 international dismissals and setting the stage for another milestone to be achieved later in the year, in England.
He was again unlucky not to have surfaces that suited him but made the most of what he had to work with. Crucially, Tahir showed he could act as the containing bowler if it is required of him by maintaining an economy rate of under three runs per over. He missed out on the Wellington Test because of a need to shuffle the make-up of the side after Kallis’ injury.
Marchant de Lange
The young tearaway got a taste of how tough Test cricket can be. Three months after taking 7 for 81 in his first Test innings, he was the weakest link in South Africa’s pace barrage in Wellington, as he could not find the right lengths on an unhelpful surface. The pitch had flattened out by the time South Africa were bowling and de Lange had the challenge of bowling into the wind for the bulk of his 38.2 overs. He has raw talent but there is lots of hard work to be done. South Africa were also without bowling coach Allan Donald to offer advice to de Lange in the third Test.