Cricket-South Africa take New Zealand series after being saved by rain

WELLINGTON, March 29 (Reuters) - Heavy overnight rain ended New Zealand's hopes of winning the third test against South Africa and levelling the series at 1-1 on Wednesday when the final day in Hamilton was abandoned without a ball being bowled. South Africa clinched the three-match series 1-0 having won the second game in Wellington by eight wickets with the first test in Dunedin also ending in a draw after a final day washout. New Zealand had been in a strong position to win the match after reducing South Africa to 80 for five in their second innings with the tourists still requiring another 95 runs to make their hosts bat again. South Africa captain Faf du Plessis and wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock were both on 15 not out and have proved in the past to be difficult to dislodge. But there was no doubting that without the rain, New Zealand would have been in with an excellent chance of claiming a first test victory over the Proteas since 2004. "We were lucky to get so much cricket in but the frustrating part was to be so far developed in the match and to be in a strong position and then the last day to be rained off," said captain Kane Williamson. "Congratulations to South Africa on the series win, they deserved it. With a side like South Africa you can't afford to give them an inch and we had one bad day's test cricket, they pounced and that decided the series." The hosts, however, can take some heart from their Hamilton performance, especially since they had been given little chance of levelling the series before the Seddon Park match began. They had been beaten inside three days in the second test and were weakened by the absence of new-ball bowlers Trent Boult and Tim Southee as well as batting mainstay Ross Taylor. Du Plessis had said Taylor and Williamson were the key New Zealand wickets for his side to take, reasoning that the rest of the lineup was still inexperienced or untested in the longest form of the game. It was, however, openers Jeet Raval, who scored 88, and Tom Latham, who ended a poor run of form with a 50, who weathered a torrid examination from the South African bowlers to set the platform for New Zealand's strong first innings score of 489. They also batted for more than two hours and put on 83 for the first wicket, allowing Williamson to come to the crease with the shine off the new ball. Williamson eventually scored his 17th test century, which moved him level with former captain Martin Crowe as New Zealand's most prolific century maker. He was dismissed for 176 and while visibly annoyed at not being able to kick on to a deserved double century, there was still some fight left in the middle order. Mitchell Santner, who ground out a stubborn 41, and Colin de Grandhomme (57) ensured the Proteas were fatigued on the fourth day - to the point where they appeared resigned to accepting a draw as the best result they could achieve. "It's fair to say that New Zealand outplayed us in this game," du Plessis said. "They can count themselves very unlucky because they outplayed us in every department. "We got saved by the rain." (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)