Big test for depleted Blackcaps as they take on South Africa

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New Zealand will have to contend with the absence of regular skipper Kane Williamson (elbow injury) and the retirement of batting stalwart Ross Taylor when the tough two-Test series against South Africa begins at the Hagley Oval here on Thursday.

The Proteas come into the series full of confidence after their come-from-behind series win over India with a number of young players stepping up in a strong display, while the Blackcaps, who are the reigning World Test champions, lost a Test to Bangladesh under stand-in skipper Tom Latham at home before coming back strongly to level the series last month.

For both sides, the series is a Test of depth as it is about the execution of plans and skills across the two matches. Pace bowler Trent Boult too will be missing the first match for the birth of his third child.

For South Africa, recently-crowned ICC Men’s Player of the Month Keegan Petersen also misses the series after testing COVID-positive.

It’s been a five-year wait since the teams met in Test action, and it was the Proteas who prevailed, winning the three-match series 1-0, claiming the second Test by eight wickets in Wellington. For the two captains in the upcoming series, both opening batters, it was a polarising series. Elgar compiled 265 runs at 44, though Latham found South Africa’s bowling tricky, making 74 runs at an average of 18.5.

In the face of perceived pace benefits of New Zealand’s wickets, Keshav Maharaj flourished. The left-arm orthodox spinner collected 15 wickets, three clear of Neil Wagner, who will certainly hit the pitch hard with his short-pitch quick bowling.

While the tourists’ bowling attack almost picks itself, the Proteas could well pick Sarel Erwee at No.3 given the absence of Petersen. Ryan Rickelton may also be selected, while Zubayr Hamza has been hurried into the squad as a COVID replacement.

New Zealand have been able to call in reinforcements despite the absence of a number of players. Matt Henry looks well-placed to feature for the absent Boult, and Colin de Grandhomme may see a recall to the side.

Ahead of the Test, New Zealand coach Gary Stead was quoted as saying by ICC, “We’re under no illusions about what’s in front of us, in terms of the battle it’s going to be. We have a record that we would like to change against South Africa. We’ve never beaten them in a series.”

On the other hand, South Africa’s Rassie van der Dussen said, “The (SA) 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.”

New Zealand: Tom Latham (captain), Will Young, Devon Conway, Henry Nicholls, Daryl Mitchell, Tom Blundell (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Matt Henry.

South Africa: Dean Elgar (captain), Aiden Markram, Sarel Erwee, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne (wk), Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, Lungi Ngidi.

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