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Cullinan: South Africa holds the aces
Daryll Cullinan previews the first Test between South Africa and New Zealand in Johannesburg (04:10)
November 7, 2007
Preview - South Africa v New Zealand, 1st Test, Johannesburg
Cullinan: South Africa holds the acesNovember 7, 2007
Daryll Cullinan: The first Test match starts at the Wanderers - the famous bull ring - which has been a great venue for the South African teams in the past. This Test match, and the one that follows in Pretoria a week later, will be real tests of pace and bounce. This is where South Africa would feel that they have an advantage over New Zealand.
South Africa have left out Shaun Pollock, and that would have taken everybody by surprise, especially with Pollock being good at home and the Wanderers being a good venue for him in the past. So it will be Makhaya Ntini and the young, raw pace of Dale Steyn to take up the new ball with Andre Nel to follow. Jacques Kallis could also play a role for South Africa in the bowling department.
We will also get to see the contest between the two spinners - Daniel Vettori and Paul Harris. South Africa will want to include Harris - since he is in good form - just to see how he performs at home. Generally, in the past, the spinners at this ground have played a restrictive role, as they haven't really been great wicket-takers. But, I can tell you that if the pitch has some bounce, then the spinners can really come into their own. It [Wanderers] is a very difficult ground to defend runs on, and as you have seen in one-day cricket in the past, it is really one of the best venues in world cricket to bat.
New Zealand, with the likes of the Shane Bond, would feel that they have some pace and wicket-takers up front. Chris Martin has been a steady performer against South Africa through the years and New Zealand will certainly feel that they can make the new ball work for them.
But ultimately it will be South Africa's pace against the brittle New Zealand top order. The two New Zealand openers - Craig Cummings and Michael Papps - have very few Tests between them but they do have strength in the middle with Stephen Fleming declared fit. They also have Scott Styris and Ross Taylor has found some form. Jacob Oram, Brendon McCullum and Vettori have already got some runs on this tour.
New Zealand, from their perspective, need to get off to a good start to have a chance against South Africa. Just looking at the venue, it tends to be a bit slow on day one. The groundsman at the Wanderers is always concerned about leaving the pitch too dry on day one, because it can break up, and become really tough, come lunch-time on day four and onwards.
The sides have often been tempted to bowl first at the Wanderers; with batting generally being the best on days two and three. But if things look good, then the captain who wins the toss could decide to bat first. Posting a big score [batting first] is critical at the Wanderers because it can be really really tough to bat in the last innings.
One of the other things about the Wanderers is that the side that catches well, tends to play well, and the catching behind the stumps is critical. The wicket does offer a bit of pace, bounce and sideways movement. So if you are not taking your catches behind the stumps, then you are certainly going to be in lot of trouble.
Here, everyone is expecting South Africa to do well. They have got more depth, and they have the more balanced side to really take it to the New Zealand. But don't underestimate New Zealand; they are a confident bunch and if they get their tails up then they could pose a serious challenge to South Africa.
It should be a good two-Test series. It is certainly is going to take some good cricket to win it, but South Africa at this stage look like they hold all the aces. Graeme Smith would want to continue their good form after their Pakistan tour with a convincing win over New Zealand.
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