Durban – New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum admits they face a “monumental task” against the Proteas after arriving for their six-week tour of South Africa.
The Black Caps have been arriving in small groups ahead of their opening fixture next Tuesday – a Twenty20 warm-up against South Africa A in Pietermaritzburg – and the final members of their squad were due to touch down in Durban on Saturday.
The tourists were dogged by off-field controversies prior to their departure from New Zealand after the much-publicised axing of batsman Ross Taylor as captain.
Taylor, one of their best batsmen over the past 12 months, has since made himself unavailable for the trip, leaving a big hole in their line-up, although McCullum was adamant the void could be filled by some of their inexperienced players.
“There’s obviously been some distractions that have gone on back home over the last week or so, but we’re trying not to let it worry us too much,” McCullum said on Friday.
“We have a monumental task ahead of us and to do it without some of our better players is disappointing.
“But it opens the door for some of our young players coming on their first tour to take on a very good South Africa team.
“We can’t control what has happened and we need to control the things we can, which is on the field.”
They face the Proteas at Kingsmead next Friday in the first of three T20 Internationals.
The hosts have named an inexperienced squad, including four debutants and a new captain in Faf du Plessis, and McCullum believed it was something the visitors could possibly exploit.
“Twenty20 is where our focus is at the moment,” he said.
“We know they’re going to possess some very South African traits, they're going to be uncompromised and they’re going to be very fit, very strong and very disciplined. They’re a very skilled team.
“They’ve got some young and inexperienced guys coming in and a new captain as well.
“They’re resting some players too, so that gives us some positives heading into the series, knowing that if we do put them under a bit of pressure we may be able to come out on top.”
New Zealand, often South Africa’s nemesis in one-off matches at major tournaments, are rank outsiders to win any of the three series – including two Tests and three ODIs – and McCullum was happy to head into the tour that way.
“I think historically we have performed better when we’ve gone in as underdogs and with our backs being against the wall.
“I think we want to try and continually improve our performances, not just in those situations, but also when we go into a series level pegging.
“South Africa has some slight form over what we do at the moment, but we’re excited about this opportunity.” – Sapa