South Africa start bid to reach No. 1
March 7-11, Dunedin
Start time 10:30 (21:30 GMT)
The Big Picture
Test cricket desperately needs a team to prove itself worthy of the much-hyped No. 1 ranking. A little competition at the top makes things interesting, but two top-ranked Test sides being whitewashed within seven months is downright farcical. Any sport requires a benchmark of excellence. South Africa are the team most capable of having an extended run at the top of the rankings: they, unlike England and India, perform well in all conditions, and had it not been for a strange inability to win a home series for three years they would already have been No. 1. They can get there by beating New Zealand 3-0 and should settle for nothing less.
A year ago, when New Zealand were in quite dismal form, a whitewash would have been the expected result. A month ago, with New Zealand riding on their upset of Australia in Hobart and thumping of Zimbabwe in Napier, one might have predicted a more even fight. Now, with South Africa having halted New Zealand's revival by wiping the floor with them in the one-dayers, but having suffered a shock loss against Sri Lanka in Durban last December, bold predictions would not be as forthcoming.
New Zealand face a dilemma when it comes to what types of tracks to prepare for the series. The success in Hobart came in seaming conditions, and South Africa have lost on fast bowlers' pitches, in Johannesburg and Durban, recently. But it would take a brave team to prepare a surface that would aid Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander. The Dunedin pitch has not a speck of green on it, with dried grass covering the pitch, which may make it get slower as the game goes on.
The idea might be to bring Daniel Vettori into the game, but Vettori has a poor record against South Africa, who play spin well. Batting tracks may not favour New Zealand either; their batsmen do not have the experience of their opponents in playing long innings and building mammoth totals.
Everything points to South African dominance, but it is both teams' ability to surprise, in contrasting fashion, that will keep the punters on edge.
Form guide(Most recent first)
South Africa WLWLW
New Zealand WWLWD
Watch out for...
There was a great amount of excitement surrounding Imran Tahir's debut because he was the first legspinner to play for South Africa since their readmission to international cricket. It's not been the smoothest of starts for him, though. He has struggled to trouble batsmen with his stock ball and his googly has been effective mainly against lower-order batsmen, who account for eight of his 14 Test scalps. New Zealand's batsmen are not as adept at playing spin as Tahir's previous opponents - Australia and Sri Lanka - and this could be the series that decides his future; if the quicks leave him much to do that is.
Martin Guptill has been in prime form of late but still needs to prove he can handle top opposition in Tests. His record against top teams is poor: an average of 24.76 with no centuries in 30 innings. South Africa will be the toughest opposition he has faced yet and he will need to learn when to leave the ball and defend in addition to playing his shots.
Graeme Smith will lead South Africa despite soreness in his arm from a blow he took in the nets before the ODI series. Jacques Kallis pulled out of the third ODI due to back spasms but batted in the nets on Tuesday and is expected to play. Alviro Petersen, who joined the squad on Thursday, is set to open, with Jacques Rudolph batting at No. 6. Philander will come straight into the XI after his outstanding introduction to Test cricket, and Tahir is expected to be persisted with despite Marchant de Lange making a strong case for inclusion in the Test team.
South Africa: 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers, 6 Jacques Rudolph, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Imran Tahir
New Zealand will have two debutants: opener Rob Nicol and wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk, who will play in place of the injured BJ Watling. Nicol will open with Guptill, with Brendon McCullum moving down to No. 3. There is a third uncapped player in the squad, allrounder Andrew Ellis, but with Ross Taylor keen on playing four quicks, he may not be picked. Daniel Vettori is likely to bat at No. 6 with Chris Martin, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell and Tim Southee forming the pace attack.
New Zealand: 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Rob Nicol, 3 Brendon McCullum, 4 Ross Taylor (capt), 5 Kane Williamson, 6 Daniel Vettori, 7 Kruger van Wyk (wk), 8 Doug Bracewell, 9 Tim Southee, Trent Boult, 11 Chris Martin
Pitch and conditions
It is around 14C in Dunedin, which could make the South Africa players uncomfortable. There is also a chance of rain on the first day, with clear skies forecast for the next four. A brown pitch that may get slower suggests batting first would be the favoured option for both captains, which would be backed up by the high first-innings totals that have been scored in the three Tests at the University Oval. The last Plunket Shield match played at the ground, though, was a low-scoring game in which Auckland beat Otago after choosing to field.
Stats and trivia
- Hashim Amla averages 104.80 against New Zealand after six Test innings against them
- Of the last five matches between the two teams, four have been won by South Africa in less than four days
Click here for the detailed stats preview to the Test.
"I've been surprised that that's been the general talk but the guys [South Africa] have performed really well on the tour so naturally people are getting despondent."
Graeme Smith says he did not expect the New Zealand public to write off their own team before the series had started
"After the win in Hobart we've captured the imagination of the country and we want to try and build on that."
Ross Taylor says New Zealand can erase the memory of the 0-3 loss in the ODIs with a better performance in the Tests
Edited by Siddarth Ravindran
Dustin Silgardo is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo