AUCKLAND: South Africa hailed a battling Faf du Plessis Saturday after whipping New Zealand in the final one-day international to win the series and reclaim the world number one slot.
"He's a wonderful player who has turned into a great player over the past few years," captain AB de Villiers said after du Plessis anchored a six-wicket win to give South Africa the series 3-2.
The overwhelming victory moved the South Africans ahead of Australia in the world rankings after they had slipped to second when beaten by New Zealand in the fourth match.
With de Plessis, holding the innings together and David Miller plundering the boundaries with 45 off 35 balls, South Africa took less than 33 overs to overhaul New Zealand's 149.
Du Plessis ended the game with a boundary which also took him to 51 and his 26th ODI half century.
De Villiers singled out his bowlers "for a fantastic effort" to destroy the New Zealand innings in 41.1 overs before du Plessis led the side home.
"It's very easy in those situations to go into a negative mindset and we decied to stay positive. It was a fantastic knock by Faf and David to take us across the line."
New Zealand were made to struggle throughout the match with a performance which captain Kane Williamson labelled "not good enough" for the team ranked third in the world.
"It was a disappointing effort with the bat," he said.
"It was a shame the first half was done so poorly. It wasn't good enough. We do need to be a lot better. When you're taking on the best team in the world you do need to raise your game."
While South Africa, like New Zealand, lost early wickets du Plessis held the innings together with partnerships of 40 with de Villiers and an unbeaten 63 with Miller.
De Villiers' 23 was his lowest score and only the third time he was dismissed in the series where he averaged 87.33.
After New Zealand's thumping seven-wicket victory in game four to level the series at 2-2, South Africa looked to stamp their mark early.
When De Villiers won the toss and opted to bowl, the world's number one spinner Imran Tahir and Kagiso Rabada led a disciplined attack that decimated the New Zealand batting.
Tahir's 10 overs produced two for 14, while Rabada took three for 25 off 7.1.
South Africa's response was not all plain sailing with Quinton de Kock (six), Hashim Amla (eight) and JP Duminy (three) out early to have the tourists three for 48 in the 16th over, comparable to New Zealand's four for 51 at the same stage.
But from there du Plessis and de Villiers pushed the score up to 88 before being joined by Miller through to the end.
New Zealand's best performer with the bat was Colin de Grandhomme who made 32 batting at number eight, while Dean Brownlie, Jimmy Neesham and Mitchell Santner all made 24 and were the only other batsmen to reach double figures.
Martin Guptill, who tormented South Africa with his match-winning 180 in the previous encounter, was first out for four in a brief 16-ball stay.
The two sides start a three-Test series in Dunedin next Wednesday.