Proteas upbeat ahead of NZ test series
6 March 2012
Three tests against New Zealand await the South African national cricket team, and they're aiming to continue a run of success that began with recent T20 and one-day international series wins over the Blacks Caps.
The general consensus is that the Proteas are at their best in test cricket and the forthcoming series, which begins in Dunedin on Wednesday, presents them with an opportunity to take over as the number one ranked team in the world.
To achieve that milestone, they will have to whitewash New Zealand 3-0, a feat they achieved in style in the ODI series.
After a narrow 2-1 victory in the T20 series, which included a morale-boosting series clinching win from a seemingly impossible situation, the Proteas dominated the one-dayers, with each win being achieved with daylight to spare between the two teams.
In the first ODI, the Proteas won by six wickets with 28 balls remaining; in the second ODI, South Africa won by six wickets with 70 balls to spare; in the third ODI, victory was achieved by five wickets, with 40 balls in hand.
A happy man
Not surprisingly, coach Gary Kirsten is a happy man ahead of the test series. "We're looking forward to the series," he told Cricket South Africa. "It's been a great tour for us so far.
He continued: "I think we have played better as the games have gone along, but it's a new format and we need to make sure that we are mentally ready and up for it."
Both the Proteas and the Black Caps will field different captains from the shorter forms of the game, with Graeme Smith taking over from AB de Villiers for South Africa, and Ross Taylor replacing Brendan McCullum for New Zealand.
South Africa will be able to fully unleash fast bowling Dale Steyn ace, who played only two one-dayers in the lead-up to the tests, while Morne Morkel missed the third ODI.
Add Vernon Philander into the mix, a man with 30 wickets to his name after only four tests at the miserly average of 13.23, leg-spinner Imran Tahir, and possibly Marchant de Lange, who knocked over 4 for 46 in an excellent one-day international debut, and the South African bowling attack looks formidable. Lonwabo Tsotsobe presents a left-armed option.
Star all-rounder Jacques Kallis suffered a few batting failures in the one-day international series, but only a foolish man would pick him to continue to fail. He brings class proven over many years to the South African top order, but there is a question over his fitness after he missed the third one-dayer with a back problem.
Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers both looked good in the limited overs series and the only real questions among the batsmen are about the captain himself, Graeme Smith. He missed the final two ODIs with a sore forearm after being struck in training.
Amla, by the way, takes an average of over 100 against the Black Caps into the series, having previously scored 524 runs at 104.80 in four tests, including three centuries.
JP Duminy might have played himself into the starting line-up after a decent limited overs series in which he played with assurance and flair.
The addition to the squad of Mark Boucher, who holds the record for the most dismissals by a wicketkeeper in test history, gives the Proteas a battle-hardened player at the top of the lower order, and an invaluable leader on the field.
Kiwi captain Ross Taylor is a free-scoring batsman, capable of handling the best of attacks, but has not yet enjoyed success against South Africa. It will need a good effort from batsmen like Taylor for New Zealand to challenge South Africa, specifically they will need to build partnerships, a core need for success in the five-day game.
That was one of the areas in which they fell badly short in the ODI series; Proteas' bowlers managed to capture 10 wickets in each match, while the Black Caps managed only 13 all series.
On a positive note, fast bowler Chris Martin, who missed the 50 overs a side games, should ensure the home side has more penetration. He has taken 44 wickets against South Africa at an average of 24.59, including a match haul of 11 for 180 in March 2004 in Auckland.
Daniel Vettori, who like Martin missed the ODIs, is a man with a substantial 356 test wickets to his name. However, he has struggled against South Africa in the past with his 18 wickets coming at the weighty cost of 69.66 runs an over.
An interesting debutant for the Black Caps will be South African-born wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk, who began his career in South Africa with Northerns and the Titans before making the move to the Land of the Long White Cloud. Since his time in South Africa, Van Wyk, now 32, has improved his batting substantially, with his first class average improving by over 10 runs.
On paper, everything points to a South African victory. Matches, though, are not played on paper, they are played on a field. For Proteas' coach Gary Kirsten, it doesn't matter what the field and conditions are.
He told Cricket South Africa: "We have to be able to play in any conditions and make the type of plays during the game that are going to allow us to have the success that we are looking for.
"We know what our strengths are and we feel that if we can really play to our strengths against any team that we come up against, we are going to be a tough team to beat.
"Whatever sort of conditions we are confronted with don't bother us. If we are going to be the best test team in the world, which is what we want to be, we are going to have to play in any situation.
"We will not be scared of conditions or scared of what is dished up at us. We feel we have enough skill in our team to be able to handle all different circumstances."
Heading into the first test in Dunedin on Wednesday, all the historical statistics are in the Proteas' favour. In 14 tests in New Zealand, South Africa has won six times, New Zealand once, and there have been seven draws. Overall, the countries have met 35 times, with the Proteas recording 20 wins, the Black Caps four, and 11 matches ending in draws.
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