Vettori insists New Zealand won't be pushovers
New Zealand will look to recent history and dig deep into their reserves of self-belief as they prepare for the first fixture in the three-Test series against South Africa. After losing both the Twenty20 and ODI series, their reputation, particularly among locals, has gone from being a side that will compete with and even beat their visitors to being a side that has little hope of either.
Daniel Vettori disagrees. "I think we probably can do it but we're going to have to be at the top of our game to have a chance," he said, carefully qualifying the can-do attitude of the squad. "We know we've got to play really well. When you're coming up against one of the top teams in the world that's the attitude you've got to take. It's similar to when we came up against Australia, who are one of the top teams, and we know that if we play well that we can beat them."
After their famous win in Hobart last year, New Zealand enjoyed a dominant home series against Zimbabwe but were unable to replicate it when facing South Africa. While Vettori stopped short of calling them the best team in the world, he said South Africa are "certainly up there." He acknowledged that the South Africa have brought with them a talented group of players who New Zealand will have to improve their game against to beat.
"We are trying to talk about ourselves and what our strengths are and what we can do to nullify their strengths," he said. "That's what we did so well in that Test against Australia and if we can stick to that then we give ourselves a chance. If we get caught up in how good the South African team is then we'll be in trouble."
The self-belief gained from beating Australia will serve as enough evidence to New Zealand that they can conquer top teams. At home, they should be able to do it with regularity and Vettori said they will draw strength from that as well. "We always play pretty well at home so I think we've taken a lot of confidence from that."
Dunedin's University Oval has only hosted three Tests but has served New Zealand well. They beat Bangladesh and Pakistan there and Vettori said the squad has fond memories of the ground. "It's been a wicket that New Zealand has enjoyed," he said. "We had a great Test match victory against Pakistan, who had an exceptional bowling attack, and we did well against West Indies before the rain came along. So it's a ground that the guys enjoy playing at."
With most of the talk revolving on factors that will motivate New Zealand, it may be fair to assume that the unit is disheartened by their recent performances. Vettori said the situation is not that dire. "I don't think spirits need lifting. It's just bringing some experience back into the side, particularly among the bowling, with Chris [Martin] and myself, and the batting with Ross [Taylor] coming back in. That makes a huge difference when you bring in close to 200 Tests."
Of the 207 caps that Vettori, Martin and Taylor have between them, Vettori accounts for more than half, making him New Zealand's most experienced player. Test cricket is now his sole focus after he stopped playing the limited-overs formats of the game and he feels the decision to narrow his focus will pay off. "There are obviously a few sides to that, one of which is playing more four-day cricket," he said. "But you also don't show your wares to the opposition team in the one-day or T20 series, which is normally before the Test matches. Although I've played a long time and played against these guys [South Africa] quite a bit, hopefully I'll bring a little bit of a surprise element in that I haven't played them in this tour."
South Africa will also have some surprises up their sleeves, with five players who were not part of the first two legs of the tour joining up with the Test squad, but Vettori said New Zealand have prepared. "With the new guys who we haven't seen a lot of, the likes of [Imran] Tahir, not a lot of guys have faced him before so we've done a lot of work around that."
Edited by Siddarth Ravindran
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent