South Africa vs New Zealand Preview (Happy New Year)

2013, you look good. I woke up today at half eleven (a late riser like many I assume) greeted by decently blue skies; a far cry from the rain I stood in at 3am waiting for the 341: the most unreliable of all London bus services – after midnight – at the best of times. I drank too much yet wasn’t drunk enough. A light hangover has now drifted away and I type these words completely sober, soberly too. The New Year period means a lot to me for several different reasons and it’s a tough time of the year.

It might prove to be a tough time for the Kiwi Test side also.

How was that for a vague segue way?

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll probably be aware of my unstinting love for the New Zealand cricket team. One of my first posts was written in defence of the side, with a wildly hopeful evaluation of where I believed they were at and where they could go. Since that piece, so much has happened and I wrote another post concerning all of that last month, if you’re curious please scroll down and read these posts.

Go on, just hold onto the key with the little pointy arrow that’s facing DOWN…

Without their most technically astute and skilful cricketers (Ross Taylor and Daniel Vettori) it is so difficult to be anything but brutally honest on the Kiwi’s chances of victory: it won’t happen and neither will they claw a draw.

They’ve only managed one victory on South African soil since the (cringingly labelled) ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll’ tour of 1994/95, where members of the New Zealand team (Yeah, I’m looking at you Stephen Fleming) indulged in some marijuana cigarettes. I just hope they were listening to Wu Tang while doing it.

The best they could hope for would be two tightly contested Test matches that both go into the fifth day; members of their top six scoring centuries and their bowlers continuing to impress all the naysayers worldwide.

They say quicks operating at around 135kph won’t take wickets and they can’t pulverize the opposition into submission.

The fact of the matter is that the genuinely rapid fast bowler (tragically) is a dying breed. You’ll rarely see even Dale Steyn approaching 145kph in this series or any other consistently, as the key phrase in the modern coaching idiom is: controlled aggression. Genuine pace sustained through short spells designed to startle and unsettle the batsman; this use of true pace has become almost a variation, similar to the slower ball, yorker or bouncer.

Bearing this in mind, there is no substantiated evidence that a three pronged attack of fast-medium bowlers averaging between 134-138kph can’t bowl teams out consistently. After all, the England team of the last three years have managed that pretty well.  

With Tim Southee having seemed to reach some form of maturity, ready to lead the attack he has been destined to since his debut in 2008, he inevitably injured himself.

This means that one of my favourite international bowlers is likely to return to the Test line up after having been left out for their previous three matches: Chris Martin (definitely not of Coldplay, who I friggin hate). He has a good record against the Saffers too, taking his wickets against them at 27.05 (as opposed to his career record of 33.97) with a strike rate of one every 50.02 balls (60.4 overall). At the ripe old age of 38, this tour could be his very last as leader of the attack, a title he has held for much of the previous decade, with Southee likely to be back for the England clash. I hope this canny bowler gets the send-off he deserves.

I feel if the Kiwis have any aspirations toward winning, one out of Doug Bracewell, Trent Boult or Martin needs to go nuclear and grab 15 wickets in the two matches. They’ll probably leave Jeetan Patel in the side, who has bowled well since his return, but if they decide to go in with four fast men, I hope Neil Wagner is the man who gets the nod. Mitchell McClenaghan looked a promising prospect when I got my first glimpse of him in the T20s either side of Christmas, but I do rate Wagner, who has a stand-up first-class record and bowled with real passion in the Caribbean earlier this year. As it has been since Hobart last year, New Zealand’s strength is in their pace bowlers.

The South Africans however boast the best pace attack in World cricket. Vernon Philander looks to have passed his fitness test which will be a great relief to the selection panel after Rory Kleinveldt’s middling debut series in Australia, but Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn alone are terrifyingly dangerous. They complement each other perfectly: Morkel, freakishly tall, angling the ball into the right hander with his stifling bounce and Steyn, spitting the ball into the batsman’s heart while swinging it away late at pace; the perfect pair of fast bowlers.

Dale Steyn needs one more wicket to become the 4th South African to boast over 300 Test match victims. Thus, here are a few words of tribute.

I clap myself on the back every time I see Dale take another wicket; I’ve adored him since the beginning. I remember watching him take his very first, a rapid out-swinging yorker that castled Michael Vaughan in 2004, and as such, he is the very first genuinely GREAT bowler whose career has run parallel to the blooming of my cricket obsession.  Since the first day of 2005, no other bowler has taken as many as his 293 Test wickets and none other (who has played more than 25 Tests in this period) has matched his average: 23.27; or strike-rate: 41.4, in that time. Only Murali has taken more five and ten wicket hauls (obviously). These are statistics that would flatter any player of any period; to possess them in the era of giant bats, flat pitches and small boundaries is astonishing. He is capable of bowling at a stump shattering, bone splintering pace and has bowed some of the greatest: when Tendulkar states someone has just bowled one of the fiercest spells he has ever faced, the fact this man is special becomes undeniable. If he plays on for another 3-4 years he is sure to overtake Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s premier wicket taker and a sub-26 bowling average beckons, placing him among the best the game has seen, a position I whole heartedly believe he deserves.

As if their attack wasn’t enough South Africa also has the deepest batting line up in the World. Though I have sympathy for Thami Tsolekile, with De Villiers keeping, their batting line up looks frighteningly formidable; Faf Du Plessis possibly coming in after the fifth wicket has fallen. The top five has four of the Planet’s best: Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB De Villiers and very rarely do all four of these men fail in the same innings, let alone twice in a match.

New Zealand have struggled to bat long or post significant scores all year. Most of their premier batsmen have squandered starts consistently, Martin Guptill perhaps guilty of this the most: hitting 6 fifties this year for no centuries. For a man who should be entering his prime as a Test opener it is simply not good enough.

Brendan McCullum also does not convert enough of his starts. After the bloody mess that was the dethroning of Ross Taylor, McCullum as captain needs to shelve some of the awful shots that get him out; get rid of this ‘it’s the way I play’ mentality and play the situation more often.

For this, I would like to see him persist with coming in at first drop. Brendan McCullum, in the absence of Taylor, is New Zealand’s most experienced batsman and must take ownership of his side; batting at 3 gives him this opportunity to lead. That Brendan McCullum has failed to provide an example of responsible batsmanship throughout his Test career, yet now finds himself as the pivotal cog in the batting line up, is indicative of the side’s trouble; it says a lot about the team when their highest scoring batsman over the last 8 years has an average 3 runs lower than Daniel Vettori.

The shining hope for the Kiwi side in the batting stakes is Kane Williamson. This year he has scored two fantastic hundreds when the pressure has been on and the stakes stacked against him. One of those knocks came against the same bowling attack (minus Tahir) he will face up to again this week. At 22 he has displayed a mental fortitude seemingly beyond that of some of his more mature contemporaries and has already been highlighted as a future captain of the side. For such a young man he has also played plenty of cricket (being in the starting line up in all formats of the game) and participates in the English county game also. It is no coincidence that he has performed when his team has needed him: he puts the hard yards in and favours first class experience to IPL big bucks.

I hope New Zealand provides a shock but I truly believe the South Africans are the World’s best and deserve to be for longer than the fleeting reigns we have seen over the last 3 years.

1-0  to SA is what I want, but it ‘ll be 2-0.

And the Kiwis will continue on as they have and so will I.

Well it’s the first day of 2013, not been awful but I have had more beautiful ones before.


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