Cape Town - Proteas Test captain Dean Elgar believes the absence of key players in the New Zealand team makes no difference to the almighty challenge that lays ahead for his team in the first Test starting at Hagley Oval on Thursday.
The Black Caps are the current World Test Champions and are a particularly effective unit in their home conditions not having lost a series in their backyard since ironically their 1-0 defeat to the Proteas back in 2017.
However, Gary Stead's side will be without two of arguably their best batters in New Zealand's entire cricketing history this week in Christchurch for the first time since 2008 with captain Kane Williamson injured and Ross Taylor retired.
This has left a gaping hole of 198 Test matches and 14955 runs collectively in the Black Caps middle-order, which is virtually impossible to fill on such short notice.
Equally, premier new-ball bowler Trent Boult will be absent for the first Test due to the birth of his third child which has blunted the Black Caps potent attack too.
Elgar, though, is a not focusing too much on the notable absentees in the Kiwi camp for he knows that the Black Caps have a proud history of finding someone to get the job done.
"We respect the New Zealand side in a big match here. They've had success even with the [leading] guys not around. They've had success with the current players that they have and we know they're an extremely dangerous side in their conditions,” Elgar told reporters pre-match.
“They’re playing Test cricket for their country, so they know what they're doing when it comes to their skill and it's up to me [as captain] to make us understand that and align us in the job we have to fulfil in this Test series.”
The Proteas will, of course, be without one of their senior batters too with Keegan Petersen not in New Zealand. The current ICC Player of the Month earned due to his impressive performances at No 3 during the recent India series did not travel Down Under after failing a Covid-19 test prior to his departure.
Elgar has backed the uncapped 32-year-old Sarel Erwee to debut at the Hagley Oval, although where he will actually bat still remains a debate.
However, the real conundrum for the Proteas is whether they will include specialist spinner Keshav Maharaj in the starting XI with the conditions and the venue's history favouring an all-seam attack.
"We have a clear indication of what our balance is going to be even though we haven't finalised our team yet," said Elgar.
"Whether to employ a frontline spinner is a hot topic debate for us. It's one of our bigger decisions, whether there's space for one in conditions that aren't necessarily helpful.
"History has shown that the spinners don't play too much of a role at the Hagley Oval. So yeah, I can't say yes or no just yet. Maybe wait and see what happens at the toss."
Likely Proteas XI for the First Test:
Dean Elgar (capt) , Sarel Erwee, Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne (wk), Wiaan Mulder, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Marco Jansen, Lungi Ngidi.