New Zealand are on the brink of history but, from talking to the team, you'd barely know it. Neil Wagner described their win in the first Test over South Africa
as "no different to any of the others
," but it is. Wagner, nor any of his team-mates had ever been part of a Test XI that have won a match against South Africa. That last happened for New Zealand in 2004, when Wagner was still a South African. New Zealand have also never won a Test series against South Africa and have lost 13 out of 16, including the last six. Over the next five days, they have an opportunity to change that.
Even a draw at Hagley Oval - though an unlikely possibility given conditions and history - will give New Zealand victory over the only Full Member they've played that they do not have a series win against. A triumph for New Zealand will see them sweep the series, go top of the ICC Test rankings and will keep them on track in the World Test Championship points race. All that without the retired Ross Taylor, injured Kane Williamson, and paternity-leave absentee Trent Boult should mark a very satisfying home Test summer for New Zealand, who next play away, in England.
South Africa are also heading to the UK, but only after hosting Bangladesh at home first and will not want to go into that series looking in worse shape than they have over the last eight months. After a Test series in West Indies, a better-than-expected T20 World Cup and an against-the-odds home Test series win over India, things were looking up but they slumped to their second-biggest defeat in their history
in the first Test and some will wonder if it's one step forward and several back.
Perhaps there's comfort in knowing they are not at full strength after newly installed No. 3 Keegan Petersen missed the tour and Lungi Ngidi sat out the first match but South Africa believe they have unearthed a deeper talent pool and will want to prove that. They're also known for working their way back from impossible situations and having their backs to the wall tends to bring out the best in them, which bodes well for the second Test, at least, lasting longer than the first.
The opening Test was over in seven sessions and though the venue has not changed, South Africa promise their headspace has. It will still be a battle of bowlers but with the way South Africa collapsed last week and New Zealand prospered on the same strip, this is more likely to be a measure of which line-up adjusts better and shows the fortitude to go the distance.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand WWLLD
South Africa LWWLW
In the spotlight
He went largely unnoticed next to Matt Henry and Tim Southee's record-breaking performance and Wagner's brute force against his former countrymen, but Kyle Jamieson
was equally important to piling pressure on South Africa. He conceded at under two runs an over in the first innings and was instrumental in holding an end while Henry ran through South Africa. With his height - just a shade shorter than Marco Jansen at 2.03 metres - Jamieson generates awkward bounce and he told local media he is also searching for some extra speed so he can move out of the 130kph range and more consistently into 140kph territory. If he gets it right, he would be the scariest seamer New Zealand have.
South Africa's entire batting line-up is under scrutiny, including the position of wicket-keeper Kyle Verreynne
. His Test career is only five matches old but Verreynne has yet to demonstrate the kind of batting that took his first-class average to over 50 or reputation for being an aggressive stroke-maker. He has had limited opportunity but averages 15.42 from seven Test innings and has not yet crossed 30. Crucially, he has conceded 46 byes in five innings and appears to have some tightening up of his game behind the stumps. With Ryan Rickleton breathing down his neck, with an average of over 100 this season and reasonable form with the gloves, Verreynne may have to make the most of this chance or risk being swapped out for the home Tests against Bangladesh.
South Africa are likely to bench Aiden Markram
, who averages 9.7 from his last 10 Test innings, but whether that creates room for Rickleton will depend on whether they feel they need an extra bowler. With Ngidi needing another two weeks to recover from a back injury, South Africa may look for insurance from allrounder Wiaan Mulder or spinner Keshav Maharaj and cut the line-up to six batters, but if they choose to include a seventh, Rickleton could debut. Glenton Stuurman had a difficult debut and could be replaced by Lutho Sipamla.
South Africa (possible): 1 Dean Elgar (capt), 2 Sarel Erwee, 3 Rassie van der Dussen, 4 Temba Bavuma, 5 Kyle Verreynne (wk), 6 Zubayr Hamza, 7 Wiaan Mulder/Keshav Maharaj, 8 Marco Jansen, 9 Kagiso Rabada 10 Duanne Olivier, 11 Lutho Sipamla
Trent Boult has returned from paternity leave but does not have the bowling loads to be considered for this Test, which should allow Henry to keep his place.
New Zealand (possible): 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
Pitch and conditions
The second Test will be played at the same venue but on a different pitch and New Zealand's centurion from the first Test, Henry Nicholls, expects conditions to remain the same. Two days out from the match starting, he had not seen the pitch but assumed it looked pretty green and said that doesn't mean run-scoring needs to be laboured. "It's going to offer a bit to the bowlers but it does offer scoring opportunities," Nicholls said. South Africa's vice-captain Temba Bavuma was more hopeful that there'd be less bite. With warmer weather in the lead-up to this match, he hoped it would be pleasant for batting. Temperatures are set to stay in the high teens, with no rain forecast, but cloudy conditions for day three.
Stats and trivia New Zealand have never beaten South Africa in a Test series and have lost 13 out of 16 series against them. Marco Jansen (16), Kagiso Rabada (15) and Tim Southee (13) have taken the most Test wickets so far in 2022. Of them, Jansen's average of 17.81 is the best. New Zealand have won their last five Tests at Hagley Oval, dating back to December 2018. They have won their last three with margins of more than an innings.
"One of the key things we try and do each game is pass the baton on. It is about bowling in partnerships, how we can build pressure through different plans and ends, understanding our roles. We always talk about how do we take 20 wickets. And whether some guy takes 15 of them it does not really matter a huge amount. It is about us trying to take 20 wickets and trying to find the best way of doing that."
New Zealand's attack likes to share the load, explains Kyle Jamieson and it doesn't matter who gets the rewards.
"I was very relaxed. I had been with the squad for four Test series, you start integrating with the guys, you understand the standard, the intensity the cricket is played at, the training intensity; so I was very focused but very relaxed. I had no nerves whatsoever. The only time I had a little bit of goosebumps was when I walked out to bat with Dean. But I no heart rate that spiked up which was quite cool. I had mentally prepped. I had visualised for a long time what the situation would be like walking out to bat and it was nice to have it in front of some fans. It was quite a cool experience."
At least one South African had fun in the first Test despite the result - debutant opening batter Sarel Erwee
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent