Shane Bond loses the fitness battle yet again © Getty Images

New Zealand will be without Shane Bond - easily their best bowler - for their first match of the Champions Trophy, against South Africa. And so the sorry tale of the Champions Trophy rolls on. One sided games have dominated the early stages, and there seems to be a moratorium on tall scores. After West Indies' collapse against Sri Lanka, it was England's turn, folding for only 125 against India on a pitch with uneven bounce at Jaipur. We're still waiting for a big game, and hopefully South Africa and New Zealand - perhaps the two teams without a genuinely big star of the stature of a Sachin Tendulkar or an Andrew Flintoff - can provide that.

The interesting thing is that even though Bond has been such a stellar performer for New Zealand - 87 wickets from 45 matches at 18.63 with four or more in a game four times - they still have the bowlers who can do the job in the conditions that have been served up in the Champions Trophy so far. The pitches have been slow and low, and with the ball not coming onto the bat, bowlers who can vary their pace, roll the fingers on the ball and send down cutters, are proving increasingly hard to get away from. The likes of Scott Styris, Jacob Oram and Nathan Astle, if they put the ball in the right areas, could be a handful.

With the ball not coming onto the bat as nicely as some batsmen would like, it's not been easy to drive on the up and find the boundaries. This has meant that batsmen have been forced to graft - although some have barely been in long enough to be successful - and run hard between the wickets. The rising temperatures of the second summer, the month of October, have not made this task any easier.

What could work in New Zealand's favour is the fact that their squad has not played international cricket it in seven months. It was in March that they last played - against West Indies at home - and a lay-off of this kind is fast becoming a rarity in international cricket. "We're fresh," said Stephen Fleming, the captain, discussing the seven-month break from international cricket. "Apart from Shane Bond, which is obviously disappointing news, the other players are extremely fresh and ready to go and that gives you an enthusiasm and eagerness which can often wane when you've played a long season."

Fleming also took the opportunity to send a rather sharp barb at certain cricket boards - and it doesn't take much guessing who he's talking about - as he said, "We're in a lucky position where our Board considers breaks to be very important. Other Board look at breaks as an opportunity to make money. Our breaks are well measured and well calculated. We only have two Tests and potentially 19 one-dayers, with a view to the World Cup being the most important tournament."

But there is a downside to long breaks, and that is that players can be rusty when they get back to top-flight cricket, and it could take a while for them to hit their straps. "You miss the edge of international competition," said Fleming. "It certainly is an edge that develops when you're playing regularly and we need to pick that up as soon as we can. You can't replicate that in warm-up matches so we know that starting well against South Africa is important."

South Africa, meanwhile, have been in Mumbai long already, and with more than one practice match under the belt, should be quite acclimatised to the conditions. Graeme Smith, the captain spoke of how his team prided themselves in their fitness, and did not put an undue premium on either the heat being a bother or the slow nature of pitches being a problem. Instead, he spoke of how this team were a tight unit, and how this was one of South Africa's big strengths. "We're a well drilled team. There's a good team environment and we get on well," said Smith. "Our success has been that players have contributed throughout the eleven. We haven't just relied on one player to dominate a game for us. It's an advantage that we have had players who have won games from all different situations."

In the lead-up to the tournament you would not have picked South Africa v New Zealand as a marquee clash. But with matches unfolding as they have, some gritty, dour cricket might just bring about the best contest. And these two teams are certainly known for just those attributes.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo