South Africa look to exploit New Zealand's long tail

Kane Williamson on Doug Bracewell: "Someone like Doug Bracewell is looking to try trying to play that allrounder role and improve in it going forward." Getty Images

South Africa did not have the chance to get into New Zealand's lower order in Durban, but they have identified it as an area to exploit in Centurion.

"That's the one weakness New Zealand have. They are not a team that bats until 10 or 11," South Africa's stand-in captain Faf Du Plessis said. "If you can get inroads and get through those high-quality batsmen in the top order, you can put some pressure on them."

Without Brendon McCullum, New Zealand batting experience comes in the form of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, and they are yet to settle on a No.5. Henry Nicholls is the incumbent but is yet to prove his worth with one half century in six Test innings. BJ Watling provides the lower-middle order muscle with the tail starting at No.7, something Kane Williamson explained can't be helped.

"We always pick the best team we can, the best balance we can," New Zealand's captain Williamson said. "It's always nice to have a seam-bowling allrounder that is so sought after in any international side but it's a luxury we don't really have at this stage but if you don't have that, you compromise."

He hoped Doug Bracewell, who is likely to keep his place unless New Zealand go into the match with two specialist spinners, could fill that role in the future. "Someone like Doug Bracewell is looking to try trying to play that allrounder role and improve in it going forward. He can bat and bat well so it's just experience at this top level will continue his improvement with that bat."

For Williamson, the immediate focus, though is on the other side of the game. "What's most important for us is that we pick a team that can take 20 wickets," he said.

To that end, New Zealand have opted for the extra bowler in each of three matches they have played in sub-Saharan Africa this winter. In Zimbabwe, they fielded three seamers and two spinners, in Durban, they went with four seamers and a spinner. The core of both compositions is the three quicks who played in both countries - Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner - who each offer something different.

Southee and Boult make use of swing and seam movement while Wagner extracts bounce. In what will be Wagner's first Test on what used to be his home ground, Williamson is hopeful he will do most of the damage.

"Wags has been outstanding for a long period of time, particularly on surfaces that don't offer a huge amount in terms of swing movement or seam," Williamson said. "He creates opportunities through creative bowling tactics."

New Zealand's ability to innovate is the envy of several other sides, including South Africa, who started this series with an aim to try and emulate the aggression. "They are a team that knows their style of play. Brendon was key with that," du Plessis said. "They looked at themselves and said that, 'to play like any other team in the world is not going to work for us,' and they got their own brand and own style. That positive style of play works for them. It will be interesting to see if this stays with them.

"They were very out of the box and very aggressive. I don't think that will carry on with Kane. He is a different personality. I'm not saying it will be worse for them, it might give them the same success. They are a team that has pioneered that in their own way and a lot of other teams are trying to be a bit positive as well."

South Africa's attempts at throwing the first punch did not land as well as they wanted after they slipped to 236 for 8 on the first day in Durban. Three of their big names - Dean Elgar, JP Duminy and Quinton de Kock - fell to soft dismissals and another two - Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma - were dismissed after looking as though they could dominate. In the hope that they do not leave their tail with too much to do, du Plessis wants one of them to go to a big score in the deciding Test.

"We all got in but we needed one guy to get to a hundred," he said. "Everyone looks like they are in good touch. Everyone is playing nicely. Now it's a case of being really hungry to get back to how we were when we've played really good Test cricket. Then, we've always scored hundreds."