New Zealand made the distinction between second-string and under-strength © Getty Images
New Zealand made the distinction between second-string and under-strength © Getty Images

New Zealand entered the series against South Africa as a new-look side bursting at seams with enthusiasm but lacking significant international experience. Up against a side featuring the likes of Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla, they refused to be intimidated. A second-string New Zealand side dispelled the notion that they were under-strength. Rishad D’Souza feels New Zealand’s ability to compete and outdo a dominant South African side in the latter’s backyard is indicative of the depth in talent they possess.

New Zealand’s meteoric rise in international cricket triggered by Brendon McCullum at the helm has ushered in a new chapter in their cricket. The ultimate certification of this fact was the way a second-string New Zealand team comprehensively beat a strong South African side in the latter’s backyard by eight wickets despite McCullum’s absence. South Africa vs New Zealand 2015, 3rd ODI at Durban: Preview

At least five New Zealanders from the main team were injured or opted out of the series. The absence of McCullum and Ross Taylor in the batting line-up hampered New Zealand’s chances, as had the absence of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Corey Anderson. To add to that, Mitchell Santner, who impressed in his debut series against England, had to withdraw last minute after suffering a thumb fracture, dealing another blow to New Zealand.

Critics were quick to label this side as under-strength referring to perceived weakness. The perception was strengthened when New Zealand lost the first One-Day International (ODI) against Zimbabwe — the least competitive of the 10 full-member countries of late. Of course, they bounced back in inimitable fashion and won the remaining matches in their Zimbabwean leg of the African tour. ALSO READ: Martin Guptill’s ton leads New Zealand to 8-wicket victory in 2nd ODI against South Africa

Beating Zimbabwe, though an achievement in itself, was no indicator of this New Zealand side’s ability to compete against a far more proficient South Africa. Moreover, New Zealand had Taylor in their ranks for that series before he suffered injury heading into the South Africa series.

They lost the first Twenty20 International (T20I) of the series against South Africa comprehensively, but made a comeback in the second game to level the series. The T20 format, while high on entertainment value and frenzy, is seldom a wholesome measure of a team’s ability. The challenge for New Zealand was to repeat the performance in the ODIs.

The first ODI was a good battle. Though South Africa were unarguably the better side, New Zealand came within 20 runs of chasing down 304. The match allowed New Zealand to take stock of the conditions; it was to be seen if they could use what they had learnt to get past the line in the coming games.

Come the second ODI, they did not just get past the line, but romped across and stamped their authority on the way. A margin of eight wickets was hard evidence that while this side was a new-look one, they were not under-strength. Rarely do sides manage to draw that distinction. This New Zealand team did it and they can rejoice in the depth of talent the country possesses.

(Rishad D’Souza, a reporter with CricketCountry, gave up hopes of playing Test cricket after a poor gully-cricket career. He now reports on the sport. You can follow @RDcric on Twitter)