NZ and SA kick off World T20 plans
February 17, Wellington
Start time 1900 (0600 GMT)
The two marquee contests of the season, Australia v India and Pakistan v England, turned out to be one-sided affairs, so attention will turn to this for the more even battle that cricket needs. One thing that can be established upfront is that both teams are tough, resilient and not afraid of grit and grind, qualities that should make for a hard-fought affair.
Three Twenty20s to kick off the tour may not be everyone's ideal first course but in a World T20 year, these fixtures have some context. South Africa's desire to triumph at the ICC event in September is obvious from the way they have packed 11 T20 fixtures into their schedule before then. New Zealand's is slightly more subtle but given their strong showing at last year's one-day World Cup, they will fancy their chances as well.
Any good contest contains an extra edge, and the memory of the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal will provide that. New Zealand knocked South Africa out in spectacular fashion, a reversal that still hurts the visitors. AB de Villiers made it clear that South Africa were not out to avenge that defeat, but to rather work on combinations and strategies ahead of the World T20. No doubt, if they happen to earn some retribution along the way, they'll take that as well.
New Zealand will use memories of that World Cup game as motivation, knowing they can combine their cricketing shrewdness with clever mind-games in this series. It's how they most enjoy playing the game and they will want to incorporate all of their strengths into the most important event of their summer. With some new faces in their squad as well, they will also hope to find the right combinations ahead of another shot at a major trophy.
New Zealand WWWWL (most recent first)
South Africa WLLWW
Players to watch …
The presence of untapped spinning talent is one of the more notable aspects of new-look New Zealand side. Left-armer Ronnie Hira made his debut against Zimbabwe and impressed in both matches, albeit going for a few runs. He has a good domestic record with an average of under 23 in Twenty20 cricket. The ability of players like JP Duminy against spin is one of the areas for improvement for South Africa, and Hira could play a big role in testing them.
After an absence of three years Justin Ontong will make his return to the South African set-up. He has been an important cog in the Cobras' wheel in all formats. Like Vernon Philander and Jacques Rudolph, he is banking on carrying his experience from domestic cricket into the international stage. Ontong will have to be brutal with the bat, whether or not South Africa get off to a quick start, and will prove a handy spin option as well.
New Zealand rested Martin Guptill for the last T20 against Zimbabwe as he had a groin niggle but he should come back into the starting XI. Jacob Oram, who had a calf strain, has not recovered fully and will miss out. James Franklin will move back down the order to make room for Guptill at the top. New Zealand may play two spinners in Nathan McCullum and Hira which could leave Andrew Ellis as 12th man.
New Zealand: (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Brendon McCullum (capt & wk), 3 Rob Nicol, 4 Colin de Grandhomme, 5 James Franklin, 6 Kane Williamson, 7 Nathan McCullum, 8 Jacob Oram, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Ronnie Hira, 11 Kyle Mills
South Africa should have no reason to change the line-up they had in the tour match. The only place that could come under scrutiny would be that of the spinner. Johan Botha played in the tour match but Robin Peterson was preferred during the home series against Sri Lanka.
South Africa: (probable) 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Richard Levi, 3 Colin Ingram, 4 AB de Villiers (capt & wk), 5 JP Duminy, 6 Justin Ontong, 7 Albie Morkel, 8 Johan Botha / Robin Peterson, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Rusty Theron, 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe
The drop-in pitch for this game is expected to be full of runs. The weather is expected to be clear, with temperatures at around 16 degrees Celsius.
Stats and Trivia
- With 1283 runs from 44 matches, Brendon McCullum is the highest run-getter in Twenty20 internationals
- New Zealand are ranked second on the ICC's T20 table while South Africa are fourth
"You can call it pressure but we are really excited, we want to do well. We are young team and we just want to go out there and enjoy it."
AB de Villiers says South Africa will not be suffocated by expectation
"We know we're going to be judged on how we go in this series… The opportunity to start the series in the form of the game we're quite strong at, is a positive for us."
New Zealand stand-in captain Brendon McCullum hopes the team can build momentum from the T20s for the rest of the series
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent