Who will end their gruelling season on a high note?    Getty Images
Who will end their gruelling season on a high note? Getty Images

The super-long summer season in New Zealand is approaching its end as hosts New Zealand and South Africa have one last task to wind off at the Seddon Park in Hamilton beginning on Saturday. New Zealand, who began ranked as No. 5, seem to make no movement despite winning their home series against Pakistan and Bangladesh. The hosts spot remains in danger as they might drop to No.6 if they are unable to defeat the visitors. Meanwhile, South Africa, who began their season placed on No. 7, are on the verge of toppling Australia (provided India beat Australia at Dharamsala) after the successive run in the longest format.

The road gets further difficult for New Zealand with the injury numbers rising. Absence of Ross Taylor, Trent Boult and now new entrant Tim Southee, presents an inexperienced side upon the hands of captain Kane Williamson. However, New Zealand will want to pick up the scraps and finish their summer on a perfect note. South Africa too had their fears with the injury cloud looming over Quinton de Kock, who is fit to play the final clash. Faf du Plessis, leaving no room for error, would want an experienced lot to participate in the season finale.

New Zealand preview: The hosts, who gave a tough fight in the first Test, succumbed in the next match. New Zealand easily surrendered to spinners Keshav Maharaj and JP Duminy. To add fuel to the fire, they have lost out on their experienced lot as well. Neil Wagner remains the only talking point amongst the bowlers. The last time Wagner played without Boult and Southee was in 2012, his debut match. However, along with Matt Henry, Jeetan Patel, Colin de Grandhomme and James Neesham, the Kiwi hope remains alive.

Jeetan Patel could see a partner in form of Mitchell Santner for the final Test. So that leaves option for three seamers. Scott Kuggeleijn, who was called in as cover for Boult, might have been acquitted of rape charge a month ago, but his cricket numbers make him an exciting prospect in the squad. Kuggeleijn has played 51 First-Class games for Wellington and Northern Districts where he picked 133 wickets and has also two centuries to his name, averaging at 30.98. This provides Williamson with plenty of options in the pace department.

As for the batsmen, it is about time Tom Latham and last match s debutant Neil Broom step-up along with Kane Williamson to portray themselves as a formidable unit. However, Jeet Raval and Henry Nicholls coupled with BJ Watling s support have been key players for the hosts in Taylor s absence.

Williamson and co. will have to turn around their fortunes after their recent victories at the same venue. A draw against South Africa would not only be considered a success but also be a season-defining moment.

South Africa preview: Proteas run in the longest format has been nothing less than a dream. South Africa have come a long way, beginning with a series win against New Zealand at home followed by away win against Australia and lastly home victory against Sri Lanka amidst change of leadership and mintgate controversies. South Africa s top-six batsmen have struggled on this tour, especially the likes of Hashim Amla, Stephen Cook, JP Duminy, de Kock and du Plessis.

Du Plessis himself agreed on the same and termed the batting performance not good enough during the post-match conference, The standard we set for ourselves as a batting unit is extremely high and we haven’t delivered on that. In every series we’ve played there have been one or two guys that’s put their hand up and that’s been great. But, if we don’t have those guys who save us on the day there would have been a few times we would have been rolled out cheaply. So that’s a concern and that’s something we have to work on. It’s not good enough, he had said.

Dean Elgar stamped his authority with a fine century and a half-century in the first Test. However, it was pleasing to the eyes as South Africa s two inconsistent batsmen of late, Temba Bavuma and de Kock, changed the course of the game in the second Test.

The spotlight will also be on Cook who has perished for single digits in this series. Cook struggled in the Australia series and was almost on the verge of being axed. However, that much needed century at Adelaide saved his spot in the playing XI. This time around he will have to go all guns blazing on a more consistent basis and make this series count.

If South Africa have sailed so far and the margin is reading 1-0, it is because of their bowlers and their spinners, especially Keshav Maharaj. He is the leading wicket-taker with 12 wickets so far with 8 wickets off the second Test. Morne Morkel s comeback has also been a boon for the side.

However, the focus will be on Vernon Philander. It will be homecoming for the seamer as this was the same venue where he claimed his career-best figures of 6 for 44 and ended with match figures of 10 for 114 in the nine-wicket victory in 2012. He had also reached 50 Test wickets after only seven Test matches in that series, thus becoming the second-fastest player to do so. After 5 years, the 31-year-old will be back to familiar surroundings and would want to replicate the memorable performance.

Pitch conditions: A lot has been spoken of the Hamilton conditions. South Africa s coach Russell Domingo expects the seamers to gain reverse swing along with some turn for the spinners. To sum it up, there is something for everyone in store.


New Zealand: Kane Williamson (c), BJ Watling (wk), Neil Broom, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Jimmy Neesham, Henry Nicholls, Jeetan Patel, Jeet Raval, Mitchell Santner, Neil Wagner, Scott Kuggeleijn.

South Africa: Faf du Plessis (c), Quinton de Kock (wk), Stephen Cook, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Wayne Parnell, Kagiso Rabada, Theunis de Bruyn, Heinrich Klaasen, Morne Morkel, Dane Piedt.

Time: 3:30 IST |11:00 local |22:00 GMT