Taylor's absence could be a hole too big for New Zealand
Take Michael Hussey or Mohammad Azharuddin out of Australia in the 2000s or India in the 1990s and it would have left a hole. Take Jason Gillespie and Javagal Srinath out of the same sides at the same time and, if they didn't have the likes of Ricky Ponting and Glenn McGrath or Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble, there would be an even bigger problem, perhaps even bordering on a crisis. That's what New Zealand are facing as they go into the Wellington Test against South Africa without Ross Taylor and Trent Boult.
Between Taylor's 6030 runs and Boult's 190 wickets lies a significant amount of New Zealand's experience so without them, the hosts are vulnerable. "If I put our team in the same position, if you lose two key players you do feel a bit light," Faf du Plessis, South Africa's captain said, complete with a warning that South Africa will look to target the replacements, particularly in the batting line-up where Neil Broom will make his debut.
"With a player like Ross you'll get consistent runs through the series, his stats tell that story," du Plessis said. "With a new guy it's the unknown and it's important to put pressure on him and not give him feel comfortable and give him easy boundaries and runs so he can settle."
Although Broom has 15 years of first-class experience to his name he joins an inexperienced top six. Between five of them - Tom Latham (30), Jeet Raval (5) and Henry Nicholls (12) and James Neesham (11) - they have a 58 caps, one fewer than captain Kane Williamson who has played 59 Tests. By comparison, South Africa's likely top six, even without their most senior batsman Hashim Amla, have more than New Zealand's caps between them: 142. With Amla, they more than double New Zealand's number: 243.
New Zealand will hope to make up for that in the bowling department where Tim Southee will come back into the XI after missing out in Dunedin, but he will have some junior partners. Neil Wagner's career is only 30 Tests old and if New Zealand opt for a sole specialist spinner they will add to their pack with Matt Henry, who has played seven Tests, or Colin de Grandhomme, who has played four. "There's some inexperience there," du Plessis said.
But Southee sees the bowling as an area of strength, where New Zealand have options that they can explore. "It's a luxury we do have. We are starting to form a little bit of depth in the bowlers and its obviously good to have those guys keeping us honest in our performances, knowing that there's guys ready to come in and grab an opportunity," he said "Matt has been unfortunate throughout this summer to not have played a lot so if he gets a crack, I am sure he will be excited."
What New Zealand have in their favour is that their attack will be more used to conditions, especially the high winds, which are expected for the third day in particular. "The New Zealanders will be used to playing in these conditions. We've got Port Elizabeth and Cape Town where the wind blows but it doesn't quite feel like this," du Plessis said. "For guys who have to bowl into the wind, that's the biggest challenge but for spinners it can also sometimes be a difficult thing to do and when batting it can work on your balance if you feel the wind is pushing you over."
Two of South Africa's pack - Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander - have bowled at the Basin before, in 2012. That was the sixth time South Africa had played at the venue, and they are yet to lose. But du Plessis is being careful not to think that statistic alone gives South Africa an advantage. "It's sounds good, that's all I can say. If you come to a ground in a different country and you've done well it sounds very good but it doesn't mean anything," he said. "It's a big Test for both in terms of doing the right things for a little bit longer."
In what has effectively become a two-match series after the Dunedin draw, Wellington is a must-win or at the least, a must-not-lose for both sides. Du Plessis indicated South Africa will be willing to take a few more risks than normal if it could help them take an unassailable lead. "I'd weigh up how far I would push it. If an opportunity presents itself later in the match I'd definitely be looking at it," he said. "When it comes to a two-match series you have to be a little more street smart because it can go both ways. You set up a game that's 50-50 and you go 1-0 down there's no coming back."
New Zealand will know that and they will also know they can't wait for Hamilton, where Boult is expected to be back but Taylor, who has a low-grade calf tear, could still be on the sidelines, to make their move. As a result, they will be relying on the better stocked department, the bowling, to lead the way. "It's finding the perfect side that can score runs but also you've got to be able to take 20 wickets," Southee said. They might have some depth in the bowling, the next few days will given an indication of whether the same is true for the batting.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent