We have become more aggressive on tours - Smith
When Graeme Smith first toured New Zealand he was 23 years old. He had already been South Africa's captain for nine months and 13 Test matches, won seven of them and had two double hundreds to his name. He hid his inexperience behind a veneer of bullishness, while displaying his obvious talent.
Eight years have passed since then and Smith has captained South Africa in 74 more Tests, 34 of which have ended in victory. He has scored 17 more hundreds, not even a velvet curtain can hide his feelings now and he has collected battle scars from all around the world. His most recent one is the bruising on his forearm, sustained after being hit by Morne Morkel in the first net-practice of the current tour, but it will not stop him from leading South Africa in Dunedin.
South Africa drew the 2004 Test series, Smith's only previous one in New Zealand, 1-1. Smith says the side is better equipped to win this time because, like him, they are older and wiser. "We were a little wet behind the ears then," Smith said at the University Oval. "We have a far more attacking mindset now. Before, we used to tour wanting to see how well we could do; now we tour thinking 'we've come to here to win'. It's a very different thought process."
Series wins abroad, most notably in Australia and England, have contributed to the Test side's growing self-assuredness. Since winning a home series for the first time since 2008 - they beat Sri Lanka 2-1 in 2011-12 - South Africa have become known as the most consistent side in Test cricket, and can become the top-ranked Test team if they beat New Zealand 3-0. Also aiding South Africa is the fact that they dominated New Zealand in the Twenty20s and ODIs preceding the Tests, something Smith said would have dented the hosts' confidence.
"After losing the way they did, if we can perform well in this first Test match maybe we can dent that confidence even more; and New Zealand have a lot of players involved in both series, even though they do get three of four key players back. Maybe their confidence is not as thick and strong as it was a few months ago. Hopefully we can get into that and open it up a little bit."
Smith said the bowling attack South Africa have on this tour is more dynamic than the one that they had on their last trip to New Zealand, which featured Shaun Pollock, Andre Nel and Makhaya Ntini. This season has seen the emergence of fast bowler Vernon Philander, who stunned both Australia and Sri Lanka with little more than the ability to bowl almost no bad balls and enjoyed a return of 30 wickets from his first four Tests, and legspinner Imran Tahir, who gives South Africa another attacking option.
"He's had an unbelievable start to his Test career," Smith said of Philander. "He has a very different style to the rest of our attack. He asks a lot of questions with the ball, he is in the right area more often than not and even on flat wickets gets the ball to talk a little bit. He brings a lot of consistency to our attack and I think he has been a real asset in addition to the pace of Dale [Steyn] and Morne [Morkel.
"We've got a lot more pace now than we had eight years ago. We've also got a legspinner now."
Tahir has not had a massive impact on the five Tests he has played so far but will be in the starting XI in Dunedin, as part of coach Gary Kirsten's plan to give players a sustained run.
Kirsten is one of the reasons for South Africa's changed approach. If there is a man who can introduce a philosophy to help South Africa achieve things they have previously been unable to, like spending time at the top of the Test rankings, Smith believes Kirsten is him. "More than anything, of all the coaches I have been under, Gary brings a much more relaxed, mature approach to the way he runs the team. We've grown a lot over the last few years and need someone to take us to the next level in terms of maturity, and the way we play and think about the game."
Edited by Dustin Silgardo
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent