While AB de Villiers graded the conditions at Seddon Park as a "0 out of 10" as far as Champions Trophy preparation goes, he gave the match itself full marks for demanding a fight from South Africa ahead of the major tournament. After cruising past Sri Lanka 5-0 at home, South Africa were looking for more of a challenge from New Zealand and that's exactly what the got in a closely-fought, low-scoring game in Hamilton. And they managed to get home in what were "the toughest conditions I've ever played in", according to de Villiers.
"Experience-wise it was 10 out of 10 to be put under pressure like that with the bat in hand. Conditions-wise? Zero out of 10. I don't think we're going to face any conditions like that in the UK," de Villiers said.
Both sides were surprised by the amount of turn, although South Africa's decision to play both specialist spinners suggest they were expecting things to be on the slower side. But Imran Tahir went wicketless and conceded a run a ball, and Tabraiz Shamsi's sole scalp cost 39 runs. So there were few hints that Michael Santner, Ish Sodhi and then Tim Southee, who bowled what were essentially fast offcutters towards the end, would cause so much trouble.
"I didn't see the ball turn that much when we bowled," de Villiers said. "Early on with the new ball it wasn't so bad, but it's easy to say that now. It would have sounded like an excuse if we'd lost."
After an 88-run opening stand between Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock, South Africa were well-set but they lost 5 for 39 in the middle period of the chase and an eerily familiar falter seemed in their future. Bar de Villiers, the big men were all dismissed and it was up to a 20-year-old Andile Phehlukwayo to hold his nerve and help his captain score 50 off the final seven overs. Even de Villiers himself wondered if the game was gone.
"Not for a second were we in control," de Villiers said. "Our two openers gave us a really good foundation, but I felt they were the toughest conditions I've ever played in."
De Villiers knew if he hung around until the end, South Africa would be in with a chance. "I decided to stay patient and take it as deep as we can and then maybe we'll get close," he said. But he also knew he would need some help. He had to trust Phehlukwayo; he would have known he could.
The young allrounder partnered David Miler in giving South Africa a memorable win over Australia last October, showing maturity beyond his years. He has also showed an ability to hit hard - and took sixes off both Trent Boult and Tim Southee as proof - and although he rarely gets the opportunity to finish games, South Africa now know that he can. "He was hitting it pretty sweet. It was very impressive the way Andile played. There is a lot of talent in that young man," de Villiers said. "He was one of the very few guys tonight who could pick up the pace of the wicket and he played it under his eyes. I was very impressed with him."
As impressed, perhaps, as with the form the side is currently in. South Africa have equalled their best winning streak with a 12th victory in succession and are building up steam ahead of the Champions Trophy. Even though they insist the numbers don't mean too much, there's no doubt it's still a nice thing to have achieved. "We don't play for those kind of records but it's a nice one to have. We are very aware of it. We are only human and will lose one. That's the nature of the beast. So we'll go to Christchurch, hopefully play a good game and make it another one," de Villiers said. "That was a great win for us. But there's lots of games left in the series and we know it's nowhere near done."