South Africa vs New Zealand: First Test Preview

Test cricket returns to South African shores with South Africa hosting New Zealand in a two-match series starting this Friday at Kingsmead.

New Zealand come into the first Test fresh from a 2-0 drubbing of Zimbabwe earlier this month while the Proteas haven’t been in action since their home series defeat at the hands of England. It’s all shaping up quite nicely, let’s take a look:

South Africa vs New Zealand | 19 August – 23 August | Kingsmead | Durban, South Africa

To Win Match
South Africa 19/20 | Draw 5/2 | New Zealand 5/2

South Africa
The Proteas will be desperate to clinch this series against New Zealand – their last outright Test series win came against the West Indies 2014/15. That’s a long time ago, especially when you consider how dominant the side had been in the years leading up to that series.

Since then, however, it’s been doom and gloom for South African cricket. Aside from the unearthing of Kagiso Rabada, the South African Test side has gone on to draw 0-0 in Bangladesh, lose 3-0 in India and lose 2-1 at home to England. This series, however, represents a chance for Russel Domingo and his men to get their season off to an ideal start before heading over to Australia for what could well be the series of the summer.

In terms of squad news, South Africa will be without AB de Villiers and Morne Morkel for the two matches against New Zealand. Morkel has a bulged disk in his back and will be out for around six weeks while de Villiers injured his elbow in action for the Barbados Tridents in the CPL and will be absent for eight weeks.

De Villiers’ injury means that Faf du Plessis will take over the captaincy for this series. While injuries to two key players has definitely put a damper on things, South African fans will be relieved to hear that Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander return to the squad following injury woes of their own.

Philander and Steyn will add some much-needed venom to the South African attack and will likely be partnered by Kagiso Rabada and either Chris Morris or Wayne Parnell who will complete a four-pronged pace attack with Dane Piedt likely to crack the nod as the spin option.

Russell Domingo has yet to be briefed on his quota targets for the New Zealand series at the time of writing which means that we could well see some surprise inclusions in the squad. Wayne Parnell and JP Duminy could both start at the expense of Morris at Kingsmead while we could see a call-up for Omphile Ramela.

Ramela is in the form of his life at the moment, having scored runs for South Africa ‘A’ against the Australian ‘A’ side as well as having had a sterling season for the Cape Cobras in South Africa’s four-day series. One could argue that his performances should see him the squad ahead of someone like Stiaan van Zyl who endured two nightmare series against India and England toward the end of last year.

While we can speculate endlessly about the all-rounder and bowling berths, the South African top order looks solid for the first time in a long time with Dean Elgar and Stephen Cook opening the batting. Following them to the crease will be the capable old heads of Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis with Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock rounding off an exciting looking top and middle order.

My starting XI for the first Test (keeping in mind the political pressure that Domingo faces) would read as follows: Stephen Cook, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Wayne Parnell, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Dane Piedt and Kagiso Rabada.

New Zealand
The Black Caps prepared for their trip to South Africa by stomping a largely underwhelming Zimbabwe side in a two-match series a few weeks ago. While hardly the ideal preparation for what promises to be tightly-fought affair against the Proteas, it did allow the New Zealanders to acclimatise somewhat to local conditions.

While Mike Hesson’s squad has a nice all-round look to it, their strength lies in their top order. Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and BJ Watling are all world-class players in their own right. If they fire during this series – and there’s every chance that they will – the South Africans could be finding themselves spending a lot of time chasing leather.

What will be most worrying for the Domingo and his men is the ease at which the Black Caps’ top order took apart Zimbabwe’s attack – although the likes of Michael Chinouya and John Nyumbu don’t exactly illicit the sort of fear and respect that Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander do. Still, they’ll come into this series in good form, and that alone should worry the South Africans.

While the New Zealand top and middle order presents one of the toughest batting nuts to crack in world cricket, their bowling attack shouldn’t be ignored altogether. In Trent Boult and Tim Southee, they have two of the planet’s premier Test seamers while the likes of Mitchell Santner and Neil Wagner will provide support for the two front-line quicks.

I’m most interested in seeing Ish Sodhi, though. The young Indian-born leg-spinner is a bag of tricks and could well trouble this talented South African batting order. He’s not afraid to throw the ball up or vary his pace. That said, if he’s having an off day, he could present the likes of du Plessis and Amla – both very strong players of spin – easy boundaries on a relatively small Kingsmead field.

Verdict: New Zealand Draw no Bet (DNB) at 16/10
While I would absolutely love to see the Proteas wipe the floor with their New Zealand counterparts, I just don’t see it happening – especially at Kingsmead where the South Africans have a less than ideal Test record. Since 2008, South Africa have only won at the venue once. That win came against a very undercooked Indian side who struggled with the conditions. Other than that, their last five results in Durban have ended in some pretty heavy defeats against the likes of Sri Lanka, India, England and Australia.

Value Bet:  Kane Williamson to top score for New Zealand (1st Inn) at 3/1
Williamson is in a different class at the moment, and at the age of 26, is already considered New Zealand’s greatest ever player. He scores runs for fun and only looks to be getting better as he gets older – at 3/1, you’d be silly not backing him to top score for New Zealand in their first innings. 

Written by Jason Dewey for @Hollywoodbets.

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