Friday, August 19, 2016

Depleted South Africa up against confident New Zealand in Durban

Much has changed in South African cricket since the last time they donned their white flannels back in January. They no longer are the No.1 side in the world, having relinquished the honour after their series loss against England; they now find themselves languishing at seventh spot in the ICC rankings for Tests. The other, more significant change has been Cricket South Africa's introduction of a selection target for the national side, which would dictate the number of coloured players to be picked in the side.

Come Friday (August 19), when South Africa take on New Zealand in the first of the two-match Test series, it will be the first game played under those conditions. Russell Domingo, the South African head coach, however, said that he received no instruction in that regard.

This is also the first time that a Test series is being played in South Africa in the month of August - at least two months prior to the usual start of the season, which leaves even the home side uncertain of what to expect in terms of how the pitch will play.

In 2013, when New Zealand toured South Africa, they were bowled out for 45 on the first day and went on to lose both the Tests they played then by an innings. However, it is a different story now. New Zealand, in the last couple of years have been nothing short of extraordinary. Brendon McCullum sparked a resurgence of sorts that have seen them lose only two series out of the 11 contested - both against Australia - since their series loss to England in 2013.

With McCullum retired now, Kane Williamson made a brilliant start to his stint as full-time captain, with two comprehensive wins against Zimbabwe. New Zealand were clinical and that would only mean confidence ahead of taking on a South African side that will be without their usual captain AB de Villiers, who will miss the series due to a shoulder injury.

While Faf du Plessis will lead the side, they will also miss Morne Morkel who has a back injury. For New Zealand, the series against Zimbabwe would have provided a good platform to assess their young team and combinations. Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson and Tom Latham topped the run charts, scoring centuries respectively, while Neil Wagner picked up as many as 11 wickets, while the other bowlers chipped in as well, which holds them in great stead.

That South Africa are a team seeking a revival is of little doubt, but the return of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, who last shared a new ball against India last year, will boost their morale. Given Morkel's absence, much will be expected from the pair if South Africa are to dent that New Zealand top order that is riding on a wave of momentum.

This is South Africa's best chance to shrug off the rust and prepare for the long season ahead where they will tour Australia for a three-match Test series before hosting Sri Lanka later in the year. But for now, the focus will be on taking on a New Zealand side that are chasing history. New Zealand are yet to win a Test series against South Africa, and given their side and their recent record, this could be their best chance.

When: South Africa vs New Zealand, 1st Test, August 19 at 10:00 AM local time (1:30 PM IST)

Where: Kingsmead, Durban

What to expect: The pitches are touted to be slow and overcast conditions will effect how the pitch plays. Although rain is ruled out, a cloud cover is anticipated.

Team News:

South Africa: Morne Morkel being ruled out with injury meant easy picking for the selectors in terms with the pace trio of Steyn, Philander and Rabada teaming up with only Dane Piedt as the specialist spinner. JP Duminy will chip in with part-time spin.

New Zealand: The visitors are unlikely to make too many changes to the XIs that started against Zimbabwe, given the success they saw there. However, conditions might have them opt for a four-pronged pace attack.

Did you know:

- South Africa remains the only country where Kane Williamson has not scored a century. He has scored just 43 runs in his four innings there, with a highest of 15.

- New Zealand have won their last two Tests away from home - both in Zimbabwe. They have never won three consecutive away Tests.

- Dale Steyn averages 17.05 per wicket against New Zealand - the best he averages against any team he has played more than one Test.

- This is the first time AB de Villiers is missing a Test match due to injury since his debut in Dec 2004. He has so far featured in 106 Tests for South Africa


South Africa: Faf du Plessis (capt), Dean Elgar, Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada.

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wk), Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Mark Craig, Matt Henry, Luke Ronchi (wk), Jeet Raval.

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