South Africa v New Zealand, 1st Test, Johannesburg November 7, 2007

Advantage South Africa

Greater depth in batting and bowling, coupled with plenty of experience, make South Africa the favourites for the series against New Zealand

Daniel Vettori has only managed 15 wickets in nine Tests against South Africa, at an average of 70.06 © Getty Images

Just one rank, and six rating points, separates fifth-placed South Africa from New Zealand in the ICC Test rankings, and yet Graeme Smith's side will start as firm favourites in the two-Test series which gets underway in Johannesburg on Thursday. The South Africans are coming off a Test series win in Pakistan, while New Zealand suffered a demoralising defeat against South Africa A, with their batsmen, especially, struggling for runs.

Traditionally too, South Africa have dominated the exchanges between the two teams, winning 18 out of 33 Tests. Their domination has been equally emphatic since returning to the international fold, with nine wins and two losses in 16 Tests, while their home record is as impressive, with 12 wins from 19 matches.

Apart from their lack of form, New Zealand will also have to battle their lack of experience. Among the frontline batsmen, only three have played against South Africa - Stephen Fleming, Scott Styris and Michael Papps. Fleming and Styris have a solid record against them, but Papps has struggled, averaging less than 16 in five Tests.

New Zealand batsmen versus South Africa
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Jacob Oram 6 484 60.50 2/ 1
Scott Styris 6 447 49.67 1/ 3
Stephen Fleming 13 918 41.72 1/ 4
Daniel Vettori 9 328 27.33 0/ 3
Brendon McCullum 6 221 24.55 0/ 2
Michael Papps 5 143 15.88 0/ 1

The South Africans, on the other hand, have a settled and experienced batting line-up, and apart from AB de Villiers and Mark Boucher, they've all enjoyed playing against New Zealand.

South African batsmen versus New Zealand
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Herschelle Gibbs 7 694 63.09 2/ 3
Hashim Amla 2 233 77.67 1/ 1
Jacques Kallis 12 1010 59.41 3/ 5
Ashwell Prince 3 175 58.33 1/ 0
Graeme Smith 6 498 49.80 1/ 3
Shaun Pollock 11 277 34.62 0/ 1
AB de Villiers 3 144 28.80 0/ 1
Mark Boucher 12 220 18.33 0/ 1

The pitch in Johannesburg is expected to assist fast bowlers, which could give Chris Martin an opportunity to add to his already impressive tally of 38 wickets from eight games against South Africa. The more famed member of the New Zealand fast-bowling line-up, Shane Bond, hasn't yet played a Test against South Africa, while their captain, Daniel Vettori, will hardly have pleasant memories of his battles against them: his 15 wickets from nine games against them have cost him 70 apiece, at a staggeringly poor strike rate of 147 deliveries per wicket.

New Zealand bowlers versus South Africa
Bowler Tests Wickets Average 5WI/ 10 WM
Chris Martin 8 38 23.13 4/ 1
Jacob Oram 6 10 37.90 0/ 0
Daniel Vettori 9 15 70.06 0/ 0
Jeetan Patel 1 3 39.00 0/ 0

Among the South African bowlers, Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn all have excellent records against New Zealand, but Andre Nel, who has been picked over Pollock for the first Test, will want to drastically improve his stats.

South African bowlers versus New Zealand
Bowler Tests Wickets Average 5WI/ 10 WM
Shaun Pollock 11 43 21.93 1/ 0
Makhaya Ntini 9 40 24.50 4/ 1
Dale Steyn 3 16 26.00 1/ 0
Jacques Kallis 12 17 44.23 0/ 0
Andre Nel 3 5 76.00 0/ 0

If recent numbers are any indication, the fast bowlers should enjoy the conditions at the Wanderers. Since 2000, they have taken the bulk of the wickets here, at a healthy average of 28. Spinners, on the other hand, have struggled for wickets.

Pace versus spin at the Wanderers since 2000
Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Pace 226 28.00 51.6 8/ 2
Spin 24 41.37 65.1 0/ 0

What should give New Zealand some hope is South Africa's recent form at this ground. Since 2000, they have only won three and lost four out of eight matches. New Zealand's only success in five tries at this venue was in 1994-95. That was the first Test of the series, but they promptly lost the next two to lose the series 2-1.

S Rajesh is stats editor at Cricinfo