Onus on New Zealand to show fight
January 2-6, 2013
Start time 1030 local (0830 GMT)
In the last year, New Zealand have been practically living out of a suitcase, making trips to West Indies, India, Sri Lanka, and now South Africa. The most well-travelled team of 2012 has had more disappointment than joy. A sequence of five consecutive Test defeats started in the West Indies and ended in Colombo, where they recorded an odds-defying win. There were few positives to emerge from the clean sweeps suffered in the West Indies and India. The top order did not contribute enough and was criticised for irresponsibility. As a result, New Zealand's impressive seam attack never had enough runs to work with. Another clean sweep loomed in Sri Lanka after they were vanquished in three days in Galle, but the captain Ross Taylor led by example in Colombo and it rubbed off on his team-mates as New Zealand proved they had the resilience to fight back.
What New Zealand did not need was the internal turmoil that subsequently led to Taylor pulling out of the South Africa tour. With Daniel Vettori out injured, New Zealand are short on experienced hands against the world's highest-ranked Test side, in home conditions. The teams are mismatched on paper, but if one of the seniors can show greater responsibility, the series could get competitive. Much will depend on whether New Zealand can bat for long periods and blunt South Africa's seamers. Setting smaller targets, such as batting out an hour without losing a wicket, will help. They have had the benefit of a warm-up match, but only three batsmen - Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson - made half-centuries.
After lifting the Test championship mace at Lord's, South Africa enhanced their reputation by beating Australia at home. They fought tooth and nail to save the Adelaide Test and then were clinical in victory in Perth. Unlike New Zealand, they have a full-strength side at their disposal. This will also be their first Test at home as the No. 1 team.
Form guide(Most recent first)
New Zealand WLLLL
South Africa WDDWD
In the spotlight
Kane Williamson may be only 18 Tests old, but is already being identified as a future Test captain. Though not officially the vice-captain, he is perceived as an understudy to McCullum. His temperament has been praised and his 135 in Colombo and crucial partnership with Taylor was an example of that. He is one of New Zealand's better players of spin, but he may not face too much of it in South Africa.
Dean Elgar had a horrific start to his Test career in Perth, making ducks in both innings. Fortunately for him, the selectors have given him another chance. Elgar, a left-handed middle order batsman, will play instead of the under-performing Jacques Rudolph. While the first five positions are secure, of late the No. 6 position has not been. This is a chance for Elgar to nail it down, with the likes of JP Duminy also competing for it. Thami Tsolekile is also in the mix, but for the moment, AB de Villiers will continue to keep wicket.
With Vernon Philander passed fit, South Africa are likely to play the same XI from Perth.
South Africa (likely): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers (wk), 6 Dean Elgar, 7 Faf du Plessis, 8 Robin Peterson, 9 Vernon Philander, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Morne Morkel
For New Zealand, BJ Watling will keep wicket, relieving that responsibility from the captain McCullum. Dean Brownlie will be Taylor's replacement in the middle order. McCullum hinted at playing an extra spinner for a seamer after seeing cracks on the pitch, meaning that the left-arm spinner Bruce Martin could be in for a debut.
New Zealand (likely): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Brendon McCullum (capt), 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Dean Brownlie, 5 Daniel Flynn, 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 James Franklin, 8 Doug Bracewell, 9 Trent Boult, 10 Jeetan Patel, 11 Bruce Martin/Chris Martin
Pitch and conditions
The Newlands pitch appeared fairly dark in colour on the eve of the game. It is expected to flatten out from the second day and the spinners will come into play later on.
Stats and trivia
- New Zealand have won just one Test in South Africa, since their readmission, at the Wanderers in 1994-95. They went on to the lose the next two, and the series.
- Dale Steyn is one wicket away from 300 Test wickets.
- Jacques Kallis is 20 away from 13000 Test runs. Only Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Rahul Dravid are above him.
"The team has taken big steps forward. We've travelled a lot in the last year. It was hostile, it was tough. Hopefully now we can play the same style of cricket in South Africa with home support."
Graeme Smith, South Africa captain.
"We pushed them quite hard in that series and put them under pressure at times. We've just got to make sure we get better and compete for longer in this series."
Brendon McCullum on the previous series between the two, earlier this year.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo