Kane Williamson and Faf du Plessis have a tough task in hand with all teams closely tied with each other in ICC Test rankings  © Getty Images
Kane Williamson and Faf du Plessis have a tough task in hand with all teams closely tied with each other in ICC Test rankings © Getty Images

The most grueling format of the 22-yard game, i.e. Test cricket is back and how. It has taken over from Twenty20 (T20Is) in style with an intense four-Test series ending in a draw between England and Pakistan whereas Australia fell flat against a relatively inexperienced Sri Lankan team in their backyard. In a matter of time, all the changes were made in the latest ICC Test rankings and Virat Kohli’s young and resurgent Team India have now become the No. 1 Test team,  followed by Pakistan. England are at the fourth place whereas New Zealand and South Africa, who are to play a two-Test series together, are at the fifth and seventh spot respectively. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: South Africa vs New Zealand, 1st Test at Durban

South Africa and New Zealand- Two sides of the same coin

South Africa: Will anyone believe that it was South Africa who were holding the numero uno position in Tests till December 2015 have now slipped to the seventh spot? The defeat against India and then England at home was not expected. They now have the challenge to face a new-look New Zealand side. Proteas are not in their transition phase like Sri Lanka. They are just going through a slump in form. After their 0-3 drubbing against India exposed their inefficiency to play spin, there is an evident jolt in their confidence. They were shaky in the series against England who were better prepared and surprised them with their counter aggression.

Hashim Amla looked clueless as Test skipper and, as a result, resigned from captaincy in the middle of the series. AB de Villiers replaced him but will be out of the series against New Zealand due to injury. This brings an out of form, Faf du Plessis into the limelight as he will take over the reins of captaincy for this series. It will really be a challenge for the hosts to perform after their last home series also went in favour of the visitors. Losing at home takes away the self-belief of a team just like it does a world of good for any team winning abroad. South Africa have lost their last two series, one at home and one abroad. The picture says it all for them. READ: Cricket South Africa to introduce racial quota in national teams

They have not played in whites since January 2016. Their players look confused at the moment, about their roles and are marred with injuries or coming back after a long gap. Amla led till the mid of England series, whereas de Villiers took guard after he left. Now with the departure of de Villiers, du Plessis will be calling the shots for an interim period. Bizarre planning and lack of competitive spirit are the reasons for their immediate downfall in the rankings and with every team breathing down the neck of each other, South Africa may fall further with another no showing in the two-Test series against Kane Williamson and co.

New Zealand: Brendon McCullum built a team and left his legacy after his retirement. Williamson was always groomed as the next leader, being McCullum’s deputy for long, and has taken over the team starting from the series whitewash against Zimbabwe recently. New Zealand are a well-versed team, with the ability to compete properly and play aggressively. Their young side have learned a lot from an inspiring service of McCullum and looks prepared for future endeavours. Williamson has a set bunch of batsmen, bowlers and all-rounders. Tom Lotham plays well at the top along with ever-dependable, Martin Guptill. Veteran player, Ross Taylor, is his team’s shining armour and will continue to guide them till the time he is there whereas the menacing pair of Tim Southee and Trent Boult will spearhead their bowling attack. ALSO READ: Kane Williamson becomes first New Zealand player to score century against all Test playing nations

In short, New Zealand look like a well-oiled unit who have a purpose in mind to climb up the rankings and are rearing to have a go at their opponents. This series may mark the beginning of a new New Zealand team who are not fully satisfied being in the top four. They look hungry for more. On the other hand, it is also an opportunity for South Africa to bounce back before the other teams go past them in the rankings and their unbeaten run in overseas, which lasted for nine years prior to their series debacle in India (2015), becomes a learning curve for others, instead for them.

(Aditya Sahay is a journalist with CricketCountry who is completely into sports and loves writing about cricket in general. He can be followed on Twitter at adisahay7)