New Zealand have never beaten South Africa in a Test series. But despite the Proteas’ undeniable recent improvements, this is surely the best chance the Black Caps have had to break that duck. Still, it will not be easy for the hosts against a team doubtless full of confidence and looking increasingly settled. Who will come out on top? Read on for our full New Zealand vs South Africa 1st Test preview and prediction:
New Zealand vs South Africa 1st Test Preview and Prediction
New Zealand have been almost unplayable at home in recent times. Even the mighty India could not lay a glove on the Black Caps when they visited in 2019-20, losing both matches handily. Last year, Pakistan and the West Indies visited and were sent home again having been roundly thrashed. But Bangladesh were able to come to New Zealand and get a result. They didn’t manage to win the series, but a superb victory in the first Test at the Bay Oval was enough to secure a draw.
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South Africa, meanwhile, have been looking increasingly formidable. They weren’t able to get a result early last year against Pakistan, losing that series 2-0 to the hosts, but they recovered to thrash the West Indies away from home, winning both matches at a canter. They then battled past India in a thrilling series, recovering from losing the first Test to win the series 2-1. Particularly impressive was the comfortable manner in which they chased potentially tough totals in the fourth innings.
New Zealand will once again be without skipper Kane Williamson, who remains troubled by an elbow injury. That will see opener Tom Latham captain the side. Will Young will likely partner him at the top of the order, with South African born Devon Conway having been used at number three in Williamson’s absence. Ross Taylor’s retirement leaves a hole at number four. Henry Nicholls will move up the order as a result, with Darryl Mitchell the likeliest option to take his place at number five.
Tom Blundell will take the gloves and bat at six. There is likely to be space for Colin de Grandhomme to make his return to the side after an absence that was the result of both a loss of form and a series of injuries. The impressive Kyle Jamieson will bat at eight and hope to maintain his excellent record at home with the ball. Tim Southee, who will be the outright leader of the attack with Trent Boult on paternity leave, Neil Wagner and Matt Henry will complete the XI for the hosts.
South Africa will be led by captain and opener Dean Elgar. He did fail more than once against India, but was clearly a key cog in the South African line-up and made a vital 96* to steer them over the line in the second match. Aiden Markram did not get a score, however, and for all his talent his place in the side is increasingly under pressure as a result. Keegan Petersen, out with covid-19, will be a miss at number three. Expect Sarel Erwee to take his place, despite usually playing as an opener.
Rassie van der Dussen will bat at four and Temba Bavuma at five. Both were excellent against India. Keeper-batsman Kyle Verreyne will come in at six. He is still finding his way in Test cricket, but has shown promise. Marco Jansen will look to trouble the Kiwi batters with his steepling bounce, though they may be used to that having faced Jamieson in the nets. Keshav Maharaj will offer a spin-bowling option with Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier and Lungi Ngidi the spearheads of the seam attack.
South Africa’s van der Dussen has yet to score a Test match century, but he looked in very good nick in the second and third matches against India in the Test series, digging in to score vital runs in difficult phases of the fourth innings. He then showed the more expansive side of his game in the ODI series, hammering a superb century in the first match. If South Africa are to get past New Zealand here, one suspects that van der Dussen will need to have a good series.
In the absence of Kane Williamson, there will be real pressure on Henry Nicholls to perform as the senior man in the Black Caps’ middle order. He has shown his quality often in recent times, and boasts a solid average of 39.88 with seven Test centuries to his name. But he will need to adjust to a new role at number four and is coming up against a very formidable attack in Rabada, Olivier, Ngidi and Jansen. It may prove to be something of a baptism of fire for the 30-year-old.
This looks like a clash between two fairly evenly matched sides. Williamson’s absence is a big blow to New Zealand. He is, with all due respect, a cut above the other batters in both sides. It may well come down to which bowling attack performs better as a result. That should see New Zealand have the edge. They looked rather toothless on a flat deck against Bangladesh at Bay Oval, but they are typically masterful on home turf and should ensure New Zealand have just about too much for South Africa.
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