Wellington: New Zealand`s nine-wicket loss to South Africa in the second Test was a closer match than the result suggests and the hosts` captain Ross Taylor believes his team are not far away from being competitive in the third Test in Wellington.
South Africa took a 1-0 lead in the series on the back of the victory at Seddon Park in Hamilton, which was cemented through superb fast bowling from their pace trio of Vernon Philander, who took 10 wickets, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
"The score reflected that we got pretty much thrashed ... but it was actually a lot closer than people give it credit for," Taylor told reporters on Thursday.
"We did have our moments in that game and if a couple of bounces of the ball go our way then it could have been a different story.
"We know that we`re not far away from competing with this side. We`ve been on top in a few situations we just haven`t been able to ram it home."
New Zealand had their moments in the second Test.
Taylor and Brendon McCullum had batted them into a strong position on day one and Mark Gillespie tore through the Proteas` batting on day two, but the hosts failed to capitalise.
Philander and Steyn took five wickets for no runs to ruin Taylor and McCullum`s start, while South Africa`s tail wagged furiously, contributing 165 runs for the final four wickets.
The key to winning the final Test in Wellington, which starts on Friday, was someone scoring a big century and being backed up by two or three others, Taylor said.
"In Test cricket ... three or four guys need to step up. I wouldn`t put it down to one individual," Taylor said. "I think three or four very good individual performances will put us into this game."
South Africa captain Graeme Smith agreed that the efforts of his bowlers in the second Test had helped them to victory and his message to them for the final match at the Basin Reserve would be to build on their performances.
"The guys have shown great discipline," Smith said. "It`s a sign of maturity in the way that they are thinking and the way that they are executing their plans.
"There has also been great aggression thrown in there. I don`t think it will be any different this game (and) you`ve got to build on that."
The notoriously fickle Wellington weather is expected to be a factor, with rain forecast for each of the first four days of the match.
The wicket block, which had been under covers since last Sunday after a storm swept across New Zealand earlier this week, was markedly green when curator Brett Sipthorpe took the covers off for inspection by both teams on Thursday.
New Zealand are expected to go into the match with just three pace bowlers, having selected four for their last four Tests, to accommodate an extra batsman with Dean Brownlie likely to slot into number six after returning from a broken finger.
The biggest question mark for the home side is whether the recalled Daniel Flynn will open the innings, or McCullum will move up to resume his partnership with Martin Guptill.
Smith said he doubted their plans would be any different no matter the composition of the New Zealand side and he was looking for a good performance to set the team up for their tour of England that begins in July.
"We`ve played really well on this tour in all formats and we would like to round that off with a comprehensive performance in the next five days.
"We want to finish strong and hopefully get on the plane with a big smile on our face."