Martin looks ahead to fast-bowling duel
Chris Martin is ready to go head to head with Dale Steyn in what he has dubbed "the battle of the swing bowlers," in the upcoming Test series between New Zealand and South Africa. Martin warned batsmen on both sides that they will be caught in the crosshairs of a furious fight between the quicks operating in favourable conditions.
With an unusually wet, windy and cold summer it seems the weather gods have done half the job and Martin said New Zealand's attack should be able to do the other half. Two of the three Tests being played at what Martin calls "swinging conditions," in Dunedin and Wellington, places where he expects New Zealand's attack to thrive. "The success of all our bowlers will probably improve in swinging conditions," he said.
Even though South Africa have the world's top-ranked Test bowler in their arsenal, Martin believes that New Zealand have the strength to match that and the other elements of the hosts' varied attack. "If you've got a left-armer [Trent Boult] and you've got a couple of guys who swing the ball away and myself who brings it back in, I think the balance is there to test techniques," he said. "When you put Daniel [Vettori] into the mix as well it covers a lot of the bases South Africa also cover."
It could all add up to a toxic combination for batsmen, who will have to brush up on their cautiousness more than their cover drives, according to Martin. "It should be a challenging series for batsmen if we get the wickets right," he said. "If there's any moisture in the air, the pitch will always have something in it."
New Zealand have expressed interest in creating increasingly seamer-friendlhy pitches as they look to turn their four-pronged attack into a permanent feature. Almost everyone in the South African camp, from bowling coach Allan Donald to Steyn to limited-overs captain AB de Villiers, have welcomed the move, saying it would work in their favour as well.
South Africa are fresh off preparing green mambas of their own over the summer as they beat Sri Lanka. Although their batsmen also find the going tough on spicy surfaces, it's a battle they've fought many a time and have shown no fear of being asked to fight it again. Martin said New Zealand are aware of, and in some ways in awe of, that ability.
"They [South Africa] have probably been one of the better sides over the past five years. Their consistency is something we have to aspire to as a Test-playing nation," Martin said. He is not wrong. South Africa are the best travellers in world cricket over that period and have shown few signs of fragility abroad.
Martin is one of very few who has seen their weaknesses first hand. His 44 South African scalps at an average of 24.59 are the most wickets he has taken against any country. They have also come at a significantly better rate than his overall average of 33.33. At home, his record against South Africa is even more impressive. In two Tests in 2004, Martin claimed 18 wickets at an average of 16.66 against them, including 11 in the Auckland Test.
He hopes the recollections of those returns will act as motivation for the coming series. "It's about looking back on how I've played against them in the past. That will bring some good memories and some good, positive vibes," he said. "The series is more about revisiting those memories."
Edited by Siddarth Ravindran
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent