NZ in SA – Preview

Having never won a test series in the country, New Zealand face a tough task when they arrive in South Africa for three tests against a side keen to recover some pride after a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Australia.

South Africa are a side that always play aggressive, confrontational cricket. With such a narrow defeat in the third test, it seems likely that they will be even more so come the first day of the first test on Friday. The South African pace attack is in superb form, having done some major damage to the Australian batting lineup in the recent series, in Justin Langer’s case all too literally. New Zealand’s inexperienced top 3 of Jamie How, Hamish Marshall and Peter Fulton will all be facing a tough few weeks.

Matches between the two sides are always tough clashes, and the fascinating contest between the rival captains Smith and Fleming will once again be great to watch.

One thing in New Zealand’s favour is the presence and form of Shane Bond, a bowler who adds so much to the strength of the Black Caps side. He bowled well against the West Indies and will be looking to match the likes of Makhaya Ntini in this series. Jacob Oram’s comeback, provided his bowling is of the standard it was before his recent spate of injuries, will also be a huge help. Another of New Zealand’s key bowlers can expect a lean series however. South Africa haven’t had a top-class spinner for quite some time and will obviously be making pitches more suited to their strengths, so Daniel Vettori can’t expect much in the way of movement off the pitch. However, he is a master of variations in flight and pace, so could well still make an impression at times.

In terms of batting, the South African top order of Smith, Gibbs and Kallis easily beats New Zealand’s, which would have to be described as experimental. Both sides have a long middle to lower order, with New Zealand’s made up of the likes of Oram, McCullum and Vettori while South Africa have Boucher, Pollock and Boje. Although New Zealand bat down to ten with Shane Bond having a first-class century, you would have to say South Africa’s batting is the better of the two sides.

Bowling is a bit more even, but the presence of the great Shaun Pollock pushes the quality of South Africa’s attack just ahead of New Zealand’s led by Bond.

New Zealand’s recent 2-0 win over the West Indies was impressive at times, but at many other times they were very scratchy and making it very clear that they hadn’t played a test since September. It could be said that they were lucky to avoid a 1-1 series result.

Although New Zealand are never easy to beat and are ranked ahead of South Africa on the test table, the home side will be clear favourites to win this series. Not only will they have their usual home advantage and the embarrassing defeat to Australia spurring them on, the South Africans have in recent matches seemed to be out for revenge following their embarrassing defeats on New Zealand soil in early 2004. It is not impossible that New Zealand will leave South Africa with a trophy for the first time, but it would have to be described as unlikely.

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