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'New Zealand deserved to have a crack at us today' - du Plessis

Faf du Plessis: "It's a real fair assessment to say we've been saved by the rain" AFP

When the first drops of rain began falling in the early hours of Wednesday morning, it woke Kane Williamson up.

"I was hoping it might stop or it might come a little bit early and fine up," he said.

Faf du Plessis did not say whether he was disturbed or not but if he was, it would have been a pleasant interruption. He knew it was probably the only thing that could save South Africa from defeat.

"Everyone would say New Zealand can count themselves very unlucky. The rain has come at a terrible time for them," du Plessis said. "They dominated this Test match and deserved to have a crack at us today. It's a real fair assessment to say we've been saved by the rain."

The rest of the South African squad would probably also have settled into their sleep a little easier. Although they had high hopes on du Plessis, who had told JP Duminy that he was "going to block for two days," they knew their resistance would likely end with him too. Quinton de Kock was the only recognised batsmen left and, talented as he is, few expected him to have the restraint to bat out the day.

"You can't expect Quinny to do exactly the same because he will possibly get out doing something like that but he will put pressure on the opposition by scoring like that," du Plessis said. "If New Zealand had got a wicket early doors it would have been tough for us to get through that."

New Zealand were thinking the same thing. Having had South Africa's line-up on the ropes in the last two matches, they were finally ready to deliver the knockout punch, despite being without their two premier bowlers. Tim Southee and Trent Boult both sat out injured and, with Ross Taylor also sidelined, New Zealand's fight over the last four days went down as "one of our best performances of the home summer," according to Williamson.

"The guys picked up the roles they were given with a number of players out and ran with it. There was a great buzz amongst the group, although fairly inexperienced and young, the guys really took it on and had a good time and enjoyed themselves," Williamson said. "It's not easy to do at times in Test cricket, against one of the best nations and the contributions from all the boys throughout this match were fantastic."

What could have been has been the theme of the series - the fifth day of the first Test in Dunedin also washed out - and du Plessis wished there could have been another match. "This series has been series of what-ifs," he said. "You feel like even after this match, there could have been more, because the teams are playing some competitive cricket and for most of the series its been 50-50."

Ultimately it was one hour in Wellington, which Williamson described as a "bad day, but a game-defining day," that distinguished the victors from the vanquished. A single hour that du Plessis admitted was "similar to what we had yesterday," when South Africa lost 5 for 46 in Hamilton.

For South Africa to have won so narrowly was not ideal, even though it allowed them to accomplish their goal of getting to No.2 on the Test rankings, from No.7 nine months ago. "We didn't play great cricket but we still won," du Plessis said. "We had a roadmap of how we can get there and visualised getting there, and we are here today. Although I am disappointed with this Test, it doesn't take away the unbelievable achievements we've had this season."

The form of their top six is a concern, which left them playing with their "backs against the wall most of the time," as du Plessis put it. They would like to channel more of the opposition captain Williamson.

"New Zealand played some good cricket, especially Kane," du Plessis said. "I would like to congratulate him on a good series. Two hundreds out of three games is extraordinary."

New Zealand also learnt from South Africa. They wanted to be able to take small opportunities and turn them into big results so that they can set the agenda instead of having to fight against it.

"You give a team like South Africa an inch and they run with it. That was perhaps a little frustrating but a good learning curve," Williamson said. "We have the belief and what it takes. It would be nice to not have to bounce back. We do want to be more consistent in that area."

Both teams could be proud of the show they put on in a series played in good spirits despite the weather. Shortly after du Plessis and Williamson passed each other in the corridor and made arrangements for post-series drinks, the drizzle drifted away. For a few minutes, there was sunshine over Seddon Park. Oh, what could have been