Brendon McCullum’s New Zealand side recovered some pride and confidence from a solitary T20 win in East London 10 days ago but over five days of test cricket, the Kiwis are going to struggle to match the quality of South Africa, the number one ranked side in the world (8.30am GMT Wednesday).
South Africa will also welcome back some familiar faces into a squad that looks as strong as the pre-match odds suggest.
The South Africans treated the T20 series as an opportunity to trial new players such as Henry Davids, Quinton de Kock and Aaron Phangiso, all of whom now make way for the more recognised players. Skipper Graeme Smith returns alongside AB De Villiers, Dale Steyn, Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla (pictured) and this is a formidable line-up that justifies such short win odds.
Amla remains the main key to the contest having enjoyed a prolific 2012. His performances included a career best 311 not out against England earlier in the year and he should score heavily against what looks to be a weak New Zealand bowling attack.
Jacques Kallis has also been in form throughout the year and while De Villiers and Smith have been out of touch by their own standards, both men showed ominous signs of a return in the recent series with Australia. Faf Du Plessis completes a batting order that seems to be peaking as a unit at the right time. South Africa seem certain to post a huge first innings total and while the tourists have little chance of a win, can they force a draw in this first test?
The absence of Ross Taylor won’t help their cause and along with Brendon McCullum, Taylor was the only batsman who could truly be called world class. However, after being relieved of captaincy duties after a dismal 2012, Taylor will not be taking part in this tour.
Much will therefore depend on new skipper McCullum who now has skipper’s tasks to add to his heavy workload. He has competent and promising players around him such as Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill but there just isn’t enough depth in the order nor is there the quality to score big hundreds to match the efforts of Amla and Kallis.
South Africa’s pace attack is their strongest suit as far as bowling is concerned as Steyn returns to join opening partner Morne Morkel. One area where the hosts are weak however is in the spin bowling department and after Imran Tahir returned figures of 0-180 against the Australians in November, South Africa head into this game with no specialist spinner in the squad.
While it’s unlikely that the pitch in Cape Town will assist spin, the South Africans could struggle for variation if New Zealand manage to keep Steyn and Morkel at bay.
That seems to be the Kiwis only hope in this match – bat defiantly and hope for a draw – but expect this game to go with form and end with a crushing win for South Africa.
This Preview’s Betting Tip: Take South Africa to win with ease at 1/3 with Ladbrokes.