South Africa will look to hit New Zealand with pace in the first Test, which begins in Johannesburg tomorrow, with Mickey Arthur, the South African coach, saying he wants a repeat of two years ago when Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn set up a 2-0 series win. There was no place for Shaun Pollock, as indicated on Tuesday, for the hosts fielded an unchanged side following their Test series victory over Pakistan last month.
"We have a lot of respect for what Shaun can achieve and it doesn't count him out for any other Test matches," Graeme Smith, the captain, said on the eve of the Test. Pollock didn't play a Test in South Africa's recent series in Pakistan but was retained in the squad for the first home Test of the South African summer.
The Wanderers pitch was watered Tuesday night and was still damp Wednesday. Smith felt that conditions could suit seam bowling with the pitch drying slowly under an overcast sky. Ntini and Steyn will be at the helm again for South Africa, with Andre Nel to fill the third pace bowler's spot.
Arthur said this was a preferable scenario for South Africa as it showcased their "exciting" depth. "I foresee, against the West Indies [in December and January], and going further into our tours, we're going to be able to start each Test with a fresh bowler, a luxury we haven't had for some time," he said on Tuesday. "When I think of the likes of Morne Morkel coming back into our mix, we're suddenly looking at five front-line bowlers, and that's very exciting."
New Zealand's top order hasn't quite acclimatised itself to South African conditions in the warm-up games and Stephen Fleming, who injured his thumb while fielding before last weekend's match against South Africa A, was still feeling some discomfort. He batted briefly in the nets on Tuesday and John Bracewell, New Zealand's coach, was confident he would be able to play on Thursday.
"Stephen has had a bit of discomfort when batting but it is easing. I have no concerns about him playing in the Test," Bracewell said on the eve of the match. "The only thing that will make me not select him is if he doesn't pitch up."
New Zealand have not played a Test since December 2006, when they lost at home to Sri Lanka by 217 runs, but Bracewell was not worried about his batsmen struggling to adjust to the five-day game. "That hasn't affected us and isn't really the concern. The top three are all specialist Test players and the top order have been with the A side in Australia recently," he said, stressing the importance of the batsmen putting their failures behind them. "The emphasis is on playing ball-by-ball. They need to stay in the now rather than reflect on the past, which may have affected us in the past."
Fleming and Scott Styris apart, New Zealand's main batsmen have little exposure at Test level. Openers Michael Papps and Craig Cumming have 13 Tests and not a single century between them and Ross Taylor is expected to make his Test debut at No. 5.
In comparison, South Africa have Jacques Kallis, with 27 Test centuries, followed by Graeme Smith (12), Herschelle Gibbs (14), Ashwell Prince (6), AB de Villiers (3) and Hashim Amla (1).
The two-Test series is followed by a Twenty20 match on November 23 and a three-match one-day series starting on November 25.
South Africa: 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Herschelle Gibbs, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Ashwell Prince, 6 AB de Villiers, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Andre Nel, 9 Paul Harris, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Makhaya Ntini.
New Zealand (from): Daniel Vettori (capt), Craig Cumming, Michael Papps, Stephen Fleming, Scott Styris, Ross Taylor, Jacob Oram, Brendon McCullum (wk), Shane Bond, Michael Mason, Iain O'Brien, Chris Martin, Lou Vincent, Mark Gillespie, Jeetan Patel.