South Africa are gearing up for a second successive series that's been billed as a battle of the bowlers - this one's against New Zealand, comprising two Tests in Christchurch. After coming out on top
against the best Indian pace attack to ever travel to South Africa, Dean Elgar
believes his batting line-up is prepared.
"With respect, New Zealand's attack are a little bit down on pace compared to the Indian attack," Elgar said from the team's Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facility. "In saying that, they execute their skills perfectly in their conditions."
And this time, New Zealand's quicks will be operating on the surface with a reputation for being the quickest in the country. Hagley Oval, where both matches will be played, "is known for its pace and bounce" Elgar reiterated.
New Zealand last played a Test there a month ago, against Bangladesh
, and bowled them out for 126 and 278 to win by an innings and 117 runs. Trent Boult's first-innings 5 for 43 set the tone but he won't be part of the first Test against South Africa as he awaits the birth of his first child. Instead, New Zealand will rely on Tim Southee, Neil Wagner and Matt Henry, all of whom South Africa know well, and Kyle Jamieson, who has yet to play a match against South Africa.
On their end, South Africa have stacked their squad with six seam bowlers, with Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Marco Jansen likely to start, and Duanne Olivier, Lutho Sipamla and Glenton Stuurman in reserve. Elgar expects the sparks to fly from one attack to the other. "We know they are going to come out all guns blazing and so are we," he said. "The rivalry is pretty deep. They play cricket pretty similarly to us. They are extremely proud, extremely passionate and their bowlers are quality. We are aware of their ability. We respect that. And it's going to be a great test for us to match ourselves and compare ourselves with a team that's playing at their peak."
"With respect, New Zealand's attack are a little bit down on pace compared to the Indian attack"
South Africa have never lost a Test series to New Zealand and have won their last six
, including victories in New Zealand in 2012
. But they have also never played a Test at Hagley Oval, and on their last two tours competed in Dunedin, Wellington and Hamilton. In 2017, Kehsav Maharaj was the leading wicket-taker
and South Africa won the series thanks to him and a 160-run seventh-wicket stand between Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock in Wellington
Apart from Elgar and Bavuma, the rest of South Africa's top seven is completely different to the one that did duty in 2017 and different too to the players who did duty against India. Keegan Petersen, the new No. 3 and leading run-scorer against India, was ruled out of the tour after he contracted Covid-19
and, though he is likely to reclaim his spot, it gives South Africa an opportunity to try one of the reserves. Sarel Erwee
, a regular opener is the frontrunner, with Zubayr Hamza
and wicketkeeper-batter Ryan Rickelton
also in the squad. Elgar made no mention of Rickelton, who has scored three hundreds and a 90 in his last five first-class innings, and gave his vote to Erwee.
"We've got Sarel Erwee - he has been with us for quite a few tours now - and he is the favourite," Elgar said. "We also have Zubayr Hamza, who has come with a lot of South Africa A runs under his belt. It's those two options for us at the moment. Sarel has been with us for the longest period of time. He is a great team guy and from a respect point of view, and pecking order, a guy like Sarel is ahead of Zubayr. That's my opinion."
South Africa will finalise their team composition once they get out of quarantine and to the venue where the Tests will be played. They are currently training at the high-performance centre at Lincoln University as they complete their 10-day isolation. "We are allowed to leave the hotel to go and train as a group but once we return back to the MIQ, we are straight back into our rooms. There's still no mingling between the players," Elgar said. "We do have the luxury to go and use the gym. We've got allocated times and we've got a training schedule we are allowed to fulfil as a group. It's very strict."
While Elgar said the regulations have been difficult for the squad, so much so that he has lost track of which day of the week it is, he said South Africa have been "treated well with regards to what we asked for", and they are looking forward to freedom early next week.
By then, the IPL auction will have taken place and some of the players' lives could have changed forever. "Some guys might have a life-changing auction go their way and I will be the first guy to come up and congratulate them. Beers on them," Elgar said. "If a player is to pick up a big deal, we are still going to pull him in line because he's got to play for us. First and foremost, playing Test cricket for your country is the ultimate."