An XI with ten batsmen should have given South Africa enough resources to chase 290 but it may have done the opposite, according to AB de Villiers. The captain was irked by the top order leaving too much for their team-mates to do in Christchurch and allowing New Zealand to level the five-match series.
“It was always the plan to play a lot of batters and bat nice and deep but the red flag was always that the top order would take it a bit easy and feel like it’s okay to get out a bit early, which unfortunately cost us the game today,” de Villiers said.
South Africa made three changes to the team that snuck past New Zealand in Hamilton on Sunday by bringing in the fit-again David Miller to replace Farhaan Behardien and two seam-bowling allrounders, Dwaine Pretorius and Wayne Parnell, for Kagiso Rabada, who is nursing a knee niggle, and Tabraiz Shamsi. That meant only Imran Tahir would be considered a liability in terms of run-scoring and even though they had been set a tall target, it was not impossible to reach it, even with a few early losses.
Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis were dismissed but Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy and de Villiers all got in but could not get South Africa ahead of the required run rate. South Africa needed to get more than six of an over in the early stages itself and then required more than seven from the end of the 31st over and more than eight runs an over after de Villiers was dismissed in the 39th over. He blamed himself, along with the other set batsmen – particularly de Kock – for not having more staying power.
“We bat to 10 but the top five and top six still have to take the responsibility to be there at the end and two of us got in – Quinton and myself – and not one of us took it through. If one of us was there at the end, it would have been a different result,” de Villiers said.
De Kock was on 57 when he followed a Trent Boult delivery down the leg side and sent it to square leg while de Villiers under-edged a Boult bouncer when he was on 45 to leave South Africa on 199 for 6, needing 91 runs from eleven-and-a-half overs. Having pulled off a heist in Hamilton, and with their allrounders on hand, South Africa would still have believed anything was possible and as Pretorius’ innings developed, that hope strengthened. “We had hope until the last ball,” de Villiers said.
Although South Africa lost Pretorius on the final ball of the penultimate over, they could still have won the match with 15 needed from six balls but it quickly became clear that was not going to happen. Andile Phehlukwayo, the hero from Hamilton, turned down singles, perhaps because he did not want to give Tahir the strike, but left the boundary hitting too late. But de Villiers defended Phehlukwayo’s tactics and said the 20-year-old played the situation as he should have.
“I felt Andile had the ability to clear twice in that over. That was the plan. Southee bowled a fantastic over there so credit to him and to Boult for those last few overs. They landed their yorkers really well, they had good plans in place so credit to them but that was definitely the plan, for Andile to clear the boundary twice and to take all the strike. He played it perfectly,” de Villiers said.
Ultimately, de Villiers could not be too unhappy with the way South Africa fought, especially because their newer players are starting to step up. In the first ODI, Phehlukwayo was on the right side of the plan, in this one, Pretorius’ half-century showed his promise. “It is great to see them play with confidence and with a bit of freedom. It tells a story about our culture within the team – the guys are really freed up and they feel they can just watch the ball and enjoy the cricket out there. They are fully backed by all the older guys and the management so the guys come in, they feel confident and free to do whatever they want and to express their talent,” de Villiers said. “I was pretty impressed with some of the younger guys today. I thought Dwaine also bowled really well for us. I think the depth looks really good and the future looks bright.”
But for now, South Africa have been presented with their first proper setback since October last year, when their winning streak began. They racked up 12 ODI wins in a row before being beaten and although they will welcome being challenged ahead of the Champions Trophy, they will not enjoy the reason they were defeated. “They handled the pressure better than us and that’s why they won the game,” de Villiers said.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent