The biggest rivalry in global rugby - between All Blacks and Springboks - is not mirrored in world cricket but Dean Elgar and Tim Southee think it could be. Last week, they both spoke of the "great rivalry" that exists between their two cricket sides but you'd be forgiven for thinking they're simply talking things up.
Historically, the cricketing match-up between South Africa and New Zealand has been quite one-sided. South Africa have dominated these encounters - pre- and post-readmission - and won 13 of the 16 series they've played against New Zealand, who have not emerged victorious from any. All told, New Zealand have only beaten South Africa four times in 45 Tests but the teams meet so infrequently that perhaps these numbers don't really matter.
They last played against each other five years ago, in 2017, and South Africa could consider themselves fortunate to have got away with a 1-0 series win after the weather saved them in the third Test in Hamilton. Only four members of the current South African squad - Elgar, Temba Bavuma, Keshav Maharaj and Kagiso Rabada - played in that series and they have since undergone an overhaul, mainly in administration but also in personnel, and can finally have the foundations of a rebuild.
New Zealand may slowly find themselves in a similar position. Ross Taylor has retired, Kane Williamson's elbow injury has sidelined him, Neil Wagner is in his mid-30s, and Southee and Trent Boult are not far behind. So far, their transition appears to be going smoother than South Africa's did but that doesn't mean they can capitalise too much on the schadenfreude.
South Africa have won three of their last four Test series, including a come-from-behind win against India. There is depth in their squad and talent in the provincial pools, and despite head coach Mark Boucher's disciplinary hearing hanging over the squad, they seem to be getting on with things in a clinical way. There was even little to no complaints about the ten-day quarantine they had to serve in New Zealand, though Rassie van der Dussen expressed hope it would be the last time they had had to travel under such strict restrictions. South Africa were allowed to train, which has given them more time to acclimatise to conditions, not least because both Tests will take place in Christchurch.
If they thought batting would be easier than it has been at home, they're probably wrong. This has been built up as a contest of the quicks with 14 seamers sprinkled across both squads. As was the case during South Africa's series against India, it may not be about big runs as much as it is about crucial partnerships, strong temperaments and small margins.
There are important incentives to do well for both teams though. New Zealand are the current holders of the Test mace and ranked No. 2, so beating them would arguably rank higher for South Africa than their recent success against India at home. It would also strengthen South Africa's position on the World Test Championship points table. New Zealand, meanwhile, dropped points against Bangladesh and they visit England and Pakistan later this year, so they need to bank all the home points they can.
New Zealand WLLDW (last five Tests, most recent first) South Africa WWLWW
In the spotlight
This is the first time South African born batter Devon Conway will play against his former countrymen. Conway is from Johannesburg and played for teams in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, so he will be familiar to many in the current South Africa squad but should not expect things to be too friendly. Elgar said the team "doesn't see him as South African anymore" and will treat him like any other member of the opposition. "Once you walk over that white line, it is all business, irrespective if he is your friend or not," Elgar said. Still, South Africa would have been thinking about Conway and his "purple patch", as Elgar called it, as they identify key players in the New Zealand side. Conway's Test career is only five matches old but he has already scored three centuries, including a double-hundred at Lord's, and averages close to 70.
In six innings against India, Aiden Markram scored only 76 runs at an average of 12.66, which means he now averages 26.47 in his last 19 Tests. South Africa have opted to stick with him on reputation, talent and white-ball form, but Markram must know the pressure is on to perform. Sarel Erwee is in the squad and likely to bat at No. 3 in Keegan Petersen's absence. A good series for him could force Markram into the margins unless he matches up with runs of his own. While Markram's ability has never been in doubt, this series could be a decisive one in the immediate future of his Test career.
Coach Gary Stead confirmed New Zealand's top five will see Conway continue to occupy the No. 3 spot and Henry Nicholls move up to No. 4 in place of the now-retired Taylor. That could create room for an allrounder at No. 7. Having gone for a four-pronged specialist pace attack at this venue in the past, Stead confirmed New Zealand will adopt the same strategy and Matt Henry will replace Trent Boult, who is on paternity leave.
New Zealand: (probable) 1 Tom Latham (capt), 2 Will Young, 3 Devon Conway, 4 Henry Nicholls, 5 Daryl Mitchell, 6 Tom Blundell (wk), 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Kyle Jamieson, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Matt Henry
Sarel Erwee is the favourite to make his debut at No. 3 ahead of Zubayr Hamza or Ryan Rickelton. Though he is an opening batter, he has been travelling with the South African side over the last year and Elgar has thrown his weight behind giving Erwee an opportunity. Though Maharaj didn't bowl much during the India series, South Africa are usually reluctant to go without a spinner, which could see him keep his place. Should South Africa dispense with Maharaj, they may look to Wiaan Mulder or one of Glenton Stuurman or Lutho Sipamla for an extra seam-bowling option.
South Africa: (probable) 1 Dean Elgar (capt), 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Sarel Erwee 4 Rassie van der Dussen, 5 Temba Bavuma, 6 Kyle Verreynne (wk), 7 Marco Jansen, 8 Keshav Maharaj, 9 Kagiso Rabada 10 Duanne Olivier, 11 Lungi Ngidi
Pitch and conditions
Expect pace and bounce on green tops for this series with very little in it for the spinners. That's the view of van der Dussen, who called the Hagley Oval surfaces similar to the ones at the Lincoln University, where South Africa have been training. "The wickets look very green and very grassy but the surface underneath is quite hard so it makes it quite consistent in terms of bounce and pace," he said. New Zealand have assessed the pitch as similar to the one on which they played Bangladesh earlier this year, where New Zealand scored 521 for 6 and bowled Bangladesh out for 126 and 278.
After persistent rain in the build-up, the weather mostly cleared in Christchurch. Days will be sunny and mild, with temperatures in the early 20s but there is a 90% chance of rain on the third day.
Stats and trivia
The last time New Zealand were without both Taylor and Williamson was in January 2008, against Bangladesh. They have played 117 Tests since.
Markram needs 100 runs to reach 2000 Test runs.
"They're a quality side. They've come off beating India in South Africa a couple of weeks ago. They've got classy players throughout. While they lack experience, they're a different team from what we've seen in the past, we cannot underestimate them." Gary Stead doesn't want New Zealand to take the opposition lightly
"The teams of the past have been really successful over here. The conditions favour seam bowling, and that might be a reason for that. It's a proud record to be part of. It's different in this series. They've been really successful over the last two years. They've played a lot of cricket at home. They know their conditions well and they are quite suited to it." Rassie van der Dussen is aware of South Africa's unbeaten record against New Zealand but thinks it will be more difficult to do so this time