In theaftermath of an entertaining T20 series, the Black Caps and the Proteas will lock horns in a two-match Test series, starting with the New Year’s Test at Newlands.
The Kiwis started their tour in pretty dismal fashion, crumbling to 86 all out in Durban, before rallying on the back of Martin Guptill’s stunning ton in East London to square the series.
The decider in Port Elizabeth saw order restored, as an eager, young Proteas side under the leadership of the ice-cool Faf du Plessis simply had too much power for the Kiwis.
While the shortest version of the game provided three, exciting matches, that had their fair share of twists and turns, the ultimate format of the game should expose the tourists’ shortcomings. For one thing, their attack has been depleted by injury, and they will now lean heavily on Chris Martin, Doug Bracewell, Trent Boult and Jeetan Patel with the ball.
Bustling left-arm quick Mitchell McClenaghan has also been drafted into the five-day squad, as a result of Tim Southee’s injury, to add to the Kiwis’ considerable woe. While he was New Zealand’s best paceman, especially with the new ball, a Test outing against one of the most intimidating batting cards in world cricket is a world away from what McClenaghan has experienced in his career thus far.
Without Southee, Daniel Vettori and, in the batting ranks, Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor, the Kiwis may have a lot of passion, as Brendon McCullum keeps pointing out, but they have a serious shortage of familiarity at this level.
That lack of experience looks set to hamper them when the going gets tough, especially against the cock-a-hoop Proteas, whose big guns have been licking their lips at the prospect of a home Test after a year on the road. While the young pups of the future were scrapping against McCullum’s men, the really heavy artillery; Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, has been enjoying a break from the rigours of the game.
After an almighty scrap in Australia, that saw them preserve their billing as the best Test side in the world, the Proteas will be looking to fill the proverbial boots.
The fare in Australia was, for long periods, a battle of wills for the Proteas, but against the limited Kiwis, it may give them a platform to display their full range of skills.
While the Aussies, with a battery of quicks, kept on charging at the Proteas until they could charge no more, the Kiwis don’t have nearly as much fire-power in their tank. If the new ball doesn’t strike regularly for the visitors, there could be carnage. Messrs Kallis, Amla and De Villiers will welcome the invitation to cut loose, and the Proteas’ own “Mr Cricket”, Du Plessis, will wonder just how much time in the middle he will be afforded by his greedy compatriots.
Having started his career as a saviour of lost causes, the unflappable Du Plessis will welcome the chance to bat in less-pressured environment. The Newlands strip has been especially kind to them, too, with Kallis a perennial centurion at his home ground.
Amla seems to always make runs against the Black Caps, while Vernon Philander, who is reported to be making solid progress from his hamstring tweak, ran riot when the Proteas visited the Kiwis at the start of the year. Another significant milestone beckons for the Proteas’ spearhead, Steyn, who stands on the brink of joining the “300 Club”. Few will bet against the Phalaborwa Express doing the business in front of his “home crowd”.
All these elements suggest that having endured a rough old 2012, the Kiwis may start the next year in depressingly grim fashion.
Their only hope is that they will catch the Proteas cold, as some of them haven’t touched a ball in weeks. For Smith, the start of the series will be a chance for his side to lay down a marker for the year ahead.
They are acknowledged as a very, very good side, one filled with wonderful talents and capable of scrapping their way out of any hole. But, the next level from there is true greatness, which is achieved by acquiring the ruthless streak that epitomised the great West Indian sides and Aussie sides of years gone by. They didn’t content themselves with getting to number one. They found another gear and left the rest of the field for dead.
The Champions Trophy later in the year will give them another shot at the silverware that they desperately crave but, first, they need to take care of business and kick off the year on the best possible note. - Saturday Star