New Zealand will look to put one of the more bizarre records in Test match cricket to bed this week when they host South Africa in the first of two Test matches. This opening match comes from Christchurch and carries World Test Championship points to it.
Whoever wins this match will be assured a share of the series and in control of proceedings in the final game next week. New Zealand will hope that will be them because they have amazingly never beaten South Africa in a Test series.
The current World Test champions are under a little bit of pressure in this series. That isn’t just because they have a terrible record against their opponents but also because they could only draw a home series with Bangladesh earlier in the year. They will be looking for points to bump themselves up the table but take on an opponent who will be coming in here with plenty of confidence. What makes things tougher is the Kiwis are without a number of big players here.
New Zealand were caught cold against Bangladesh and although the red ball competition in this part of the world is ongoing, they haven’t been too active recently with series against Australia called off so they will need to ensure that they hit the ground running in this match. They will also need to bowl better than they did against Bangladesh as well but generally in home conditions that isn’t a problem. There is an inexperienced look to the batting which is a concern.
I would imagine the Proteas will be feeling pretty good about life at the minute. They head to New Zealand where they have a fantastic record and they do so having overcome India in their last Test series. South Africa have always had a rich record in Test cricket but the last year or two have undergone a transition period. There were signs in the win over India that they are coming out of that and could be a force to be reckoned with once again.
The first thing you need to be competitive at this level is a balanced bowling attack and now that they have players coming back from the Kolpak scene South Africa are getting much more depth to their bowling resources. Their batters are starting to establish themselves at the level too. At their best South Africa were always a good team away from home and if they can get that going then they will be challengers for the World Test Championship this time around.
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New Zealand were always going to be without Ross Taylor as he retired after the Bangladesh series but they could have done without being without the injured Kane Williamson and Trent Boult who is on paternity leave. Tom Latham will skipper the side which is expected to have Matt Henry replacing Boult.
South Africa will be forced into a change from the side which beat India last time out as Covid-19 denied Keegan Petersen the chance to travel. Sarel Erwee is expected to come in for his debut at three although Zubayr Hamza could be another option.
I think Kagiso Rabada could be lively in these conditions. All the vibes are that we are going to get a typical green top Hagley Oval wicket and the length that Rabada bowls and the pace he bowls at should make him extremely tough for an inexperienced New Zealand batting unit to deal with. It looks like New Zealand are going to go in with an all-rounder as high as seven so there could be a lengthy tail for Rabada to get stuck into as well.
That makes me like his performance here. The line is 99.5 which is pretty low for a strike bowler of the class of Rabada anyway. It means we only need five wickets from him throughout the match but he is a good enough batter that he might be able to notch 20 runs and get that down to four wickets. Even if he needs five wickets in these conditions he should be capable of that and so I’m happy to open up the series with his over here.
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