After all the hype surrounding Richard Levi’s return home to South Africa after the Twenty20 series, the Proteas may in fact rue their decision as they prepare for the second one-day international at McLean Park tomorrow.
Levi was considered surplus to requirements despite his whirlwind century in the second T20 at Hamilton – on the basis that South Africa have a settled ODI opening pair in Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla.
Prior to the first ODI in Wellington, Smith had scored a century and half-century in his previous two innings, while Amla is the No 1-ranked ODI batsman in the world.
Unfortunately for the visitors though, both Amla and Smith have fitness clouds hanging over them as South Africa try to close out their first ODI series win in New Zealand since 1999.
Amla, who was walking around with a beanie and jacket on a sunny day in Napier, was struggling with a chest infection which saw him miss training yesterday.
He recovered a fair bit overnight and had a short batting session today.
However, it is Smith’s condition that seems to be of greater concern to Proteas captain AB de Villiers. Besides struggling to overcome the jetlag effects, Test captain Smith has a sore arm sustained before he even arrived in New Zealand.
“Everyone in the squad is fit and healthy, but Hash (Amla) does have a snotty nose, and is really struggling with his chest, but I’m sure he will fine,” De Villiers said on the eve of the clash.
“Graeme though is playing with a sore forearm. It happened a while back. He is actually hitting a few balls at training now with Gary (Kirsten) and will undergo a fitness test.”
If both Amla and Smith, or even one of the openers, are ruled out it would leave a gaping hole at top of the Proteas batting line-up. There is no specialist opener in the 14-man squad, with the only reserve batsman being Cape Cobras middle-order star Justin Ontong.
Another option in absolute emergency could be to utilise all-rounder Wayne Parnell at No 3 – like he was called upon to do in the second T20 – with a bit of reshuffling at the top of the order to go along with it, but De Villiers was not thinking of that scenario just yet.
The captain was instead simply zoning in on the opportunity his team have here tomorrow.
“It is an absolutely great opportunity for us. New Zealand play well in their home conditions, but we’ve also played well on this tour thus far. We don’t want to take it to the last game in Auckland. We just want to do the basics well and play good cricket for 100 overs and hopefully this will be enough,” De Villiers said.
The Black Caps have promised they will be much more aggressive and attacking here than they were in the capital over the weekend, but one of the biggest obstacles the Proteas face tomorrow will not even be wearing a black jumper.
All New Zealand grounds are unique in their own mystical ways, and McClean Park is no exception.
It possesses arguably the hardest surface in New Zealand, which De Villiers admitted to yesterday after a walk out to the middle.
However, it also has square boundaries that are under 60 metres on both sides which provides the setting for an absolute run fest.
“It’s harder than the Wanderers and looks a really good one-day wicket. With it being a day-night game it might just be flat in the afternoon and throughout.
“It’s absolutely rock hard which could suit our fast bowlers who enjoy the bounce, especially Morne Morkel,” he said.
It is likely South Africa could launch a short-pitched pace barrage at the Kiwis, whose techniques have traditionally been found wanting when set this type of examination.
It was definitely part of the Proteas’ gameplan in Wellington where Morkel, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and especially Jacques Kallis let rip with a couple of bouncers.
Watching the Black Caps train yesterday during their net session, it seems though the hosts are expecting some “short stuff” from the Proteas, with all their top-order batsmen working on the ability to either duck or score off the short-pitched delivery through the pull or hook shot.
While it is an altogether different matter facing Steyn and Co from 22 yards out, New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum is confident his team are prepared for it tomorrow.
“We are definitely excited about the opportunity. We don’t fear South Africa. We think they will go short, which presents us with opportunities as the (boundaries) are short.
“If we stay smart and take the option, we could expose their desire to go short,” said a defiant McCullum, who is also sweating on the fitness of batsman Jesse Ryder.– Cape Argus