A stirring Test series awaits cricket lovers when South Africa will be up against New Zealand at home  © Getty Images
A stirring Test series awaits cricket lovers when South Africa will be up against New Zealand at home © Getty Images

Well, well, well, from the ‘City of Kings’, Bulawayo, the troops from New Zealand have now reached the sub-tropical Durban in South Africa. The hosts, ageing, are not quite the favourites, in front of a young, red-hot New Zealand side, but well, if after 14 days of fascinating red-ball cricket, the two-Test match series ends in the visitor’s favour, it could be their first against South Africa. Placed at 7th, in the Test rankings, and relying on experience of their team, South Africa are not what they were once. New Zealand are their reflection. Raring, roaring and yet ready to refine. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: South Africa vs New Zealand, 1st Test at Durban

After a whitewash against Zimbabwe in the two-Test series with almost a routine performance by the team, Kane Williamson said, “There were some really good things that we can take into that (South Africa) series. But, at the same time, South Africa are a different proposition and in different conditions. So I guess that while the learnings are a positive, the approach and our preparations will be different.” Williamson and his side, are into the phase where they realise they have the potential and the chance to the best. They want to make sure the processes are put more focus on, the results would automatically follow. READ: Cricket South Africa to introduce racial quota in national teams

An ever-threatening pace combo of swing and seam is almost synonymous for Trent Boult and Tim Southee. Neil Wagner, much more fiery than what he was when he was in South Africa, gets bounce. Spinners Mitchell Santner and IshSodhi are capable to pick wickets too. Add off-spinner, Mark Craig to the squad and they have yet another option to boost their bowling.

The batting department are coming after a run feast in Zimbabwe. Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Ross Taylor, Williamson himself and BJ Watling have loads of runs behind them now, to possess that confidence against a world-class South African bowling attack. They shattered records, reached personal milestones and made full use of the Zimbabwean tour. Their preparations for the big series have been exemplary. Now it is for them to deliver, assert their dominance, make most of the flow.

Contrary to New Zealand, consecutive Test series losses to England and India, ruptured South Africa. That even cost them their ranking along with injuries to their fast bowlers and a dip in form of their batting icons. Not everything has returned to help their cause against New Zealand at home. ‘A thief in the night’ (Heavy workload) took away AB de Villiers from being part of the Tests, and a bulging disc in the back saw Morne Morkel ruled out as well.

What South Africa have, is what they will have to make best use of. The Amlas, the Duminys and the Fafs will have to begin South Africa’s climb. “We’ve got to go back to the basics of our game,” feels Dean Elgar, who will be joined by Stephen Cook up in the batting order. ALSO READ: SA vs NZ: Different agendas; one common goal

Then the bowlers, among whom the eyes will be on Dale Steyn. A 33-year-old Steyn, is willing to drop pace for fitness. “If I must be realistic about it, running in and bowling 145kph all day when you haven’t done it for a long time is going to be really tough. Objective number one is to get through 18 overs a day, maybe dropping in pace, but being as effective as possible. 140 is going to be enough,”Steyn said. Vernon Philander will be back too. But South Africa have Chris Morris, Kyle Abbott and Wayne Parnell to choose from as well. And Dane Piedt, the off-break bowler could feature too.The surface at Kingsmead might suit him, but that will have to be seen. All in all, they have an attack with variety.

But the team has another issue to deal with: The Racial quota system. To choose on colour or merit, CSA’s new rule will certainly have its own consequences. “There has been nothing officially recommended to me at the moment,” coach Russell Domingo did say five days before the first Test, but how it plans out is yet to be seen. Anyway, perform, or don’t perform, an exclusion might not be justified.

Amongst all this, a stirring Test series awaits cricket lovers. One which might, after the England-Pakistan 2-2 outcome, and the Sri Lankan whitewash of the Aussies, rise to become the best series of the year. Durban’s winters will need both teams to get accustomed with. They certainly look promising for good cricket.

Squads:

South Africa: Faf du Plessis(c), Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Stephen Cook, Quinton de Kock, Jean-Paul Duminy, Dean Elgar, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Stiaan van Zyl

New Zealand: Kane Williamson(c), Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Mark Craig, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Luke Ronchi, Jeet Raval, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling

Time: 1:30 PM India,  8 AM GMT, 10 AM Local

(Karan Dewan, a reporter with CricketCountry, loves following and playing sports. He is a Team India fan and loves winning. Follow him on his twitter handle @karan13dewan)