Cape Town – South African opening bowler Vernon Philander is “provisionally fit” for the first Test against New Zealand starting at Newlands on Wednesday.
“He's come through his fitness test well,” said captain Graeme Smith on Tuesday. “Unless he stiffens up later today or tonight he's fit to play.”
Philander has not bowled in a match since breaking down with a hamstring strain in a franchise match 12 days ago.
Smith said South Africa were eager to get into action in their first home match since taking the number one world ranking during an unbeaten run of nine Test matches on foreign soil.
“The team has taken big steps forward in 2012,” said Smith. “We've travelled a lot in the last year. It was hostile, it was tough. Hopefully now we can play the same style of cricket in South Africa with home support.”
Smith said he was happy with South Africa's preparation.
“The way the guys have trained this week has been intense. We've had five days together and the work rate has been good. It's great to sit in team meetings and listen to how the guys want to take the team forward and not rest on our laurels.”
Asked about the controversy which led to former captain Ross Taylor withdrawing from the New Zealand squad, Smith said: “It's obviously not ideal. Ross is a key player for them and a big man around the squad.”
He said being on a tour gave the New Zealanders time to bind together as a team. “They have an opportunity to fight and they have nothing to lose in this Test series.”
Smith said the South Africans had respect for New Zealand, who they defeated 1-0 in a three-match away series during their successful run in 2012.
“They've come here knowing (captain) Brendon (McCullum) is a really gutsy player and they will want to compete and get the most out of this Test series. If they do well it will be a big tick in his box.”
The South Africans had an intensive video session on Monday, studying the New Zealand players.
“There's a lot of respect,” said Smith. “We've recently played New Zealand in New Zealand and we understand it is not as easy as everyone expects. You've got to go out there and play the game.”
Smith commented for the first time on the omission of Thami Tsolekile, the only black African in their Test squad in Australia, who had been expected to take over the wicketkeeping role from AB de Villiers during the New Zealand series, only for De Villiers to keep the gloves after telling team management he was happy to combine the role with that of being a key batsman.
“It's important that Thami gets one clear message,” said Smith. “I know that (coach) Gary (Kirsten) has been in touch with him. From what I understand it is a pure cricketing decision about the balance of the team. Obviously it's tough on Thami.”