Giant seamstresses and unknown batting line-up: Things to watch as New Zealand take on South Africa

JONTY BANKS looks at some of the themes to watch ahead of the Test series between New Zealand and South Africa

World Test Championship Relevance

After their shock defeat to Bangladesh over the New Year, New Zealand’s hopes for the Test World Championship have taken a hit. Sixth in the standings and two places behind their opponents, a few more slips could deal a hammer blow to the Black Caps’ title defense.

A loss in the next Championship cycle would see New Zealand only able to get a maximum of 71.8 PCT, dangerously close to the likely threshold of 70. Coupled with the fact that the hosts have never beaten South Africa in a series of tests, these two matches took on renewed significance.

Backdrop to the Boucher Scandal

The Proteas arrive in the Land of the Long White Cloud amid a brewing storm, after Cricket South Africa accused head coach Mark Boucher of gross misconduct, amid accusations of racism from former team-mate Paul Adams .

The CSA’s decision to announce the charges on the eve of South Africa’s second ODI against India eclipsed a formidable 2-1 Test series triumph over Virat Kohli’s side.

Victory saw the Proteas chase two significant tallies – 240 in Johannesburg and 211 in Cape Town – with Keegan Petersen compiling a stunning 82 to lead them to a seven-wicket win in the tiebreak.

Although Petersen will be watching from home after a positive Covid-19 test, Dean Elgar’s side will once again be looking to revel in his underdog status, while Boucher will hope performances on the pitch can suppress calls for his resignation.

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Ross Taylor has retired from international cricket (Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

How can New Zealand cope without Williamson or Taylor?

Gary Stead faces the problematic task of forming a starving starting XI of New Zealand’s two most prolific Test match scorers.

Much like Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad’s influence on England’s red-ball success, Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson, who together amassed 14,997 Tests between them, have both been instrumental in the Black Caps’ recent rise , which culminated in their coronation last June.

Williamson is sidelined with an elbow injury, while Taylor has hung up his boots, so the pressure is on Devon Conway, Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell to fill their void.

Of the trio, Conway has closed the gap between the best domestic and international cricket, averaging 69.2 in his short Test career to date, and proving his undoubted talent with a magnificent hundred on his debut at Lords.

And by pairing Conway with Henry Nicholls, who impressed for years in the shadow of the more experienced, the New Zealand middle order retained a reassuring presence.

Versatile Colin de Grandhomme and fly-half Hamish Rutherford were recalled after strong domestic campaigns.

Battle of the Giants

In a series likely to be decided with the ball, the much-loved Marco Jansen will be looking to build on a promising start to his Test career.

The 21-year-old gave fans a taste of his talent against India, claiming 19 scalps in his first series at an average of just 16, providing an alternative to Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi.

And the left arm won’t be much wrong watching how Kyle Jamieson made the leap to international cricket. The Black Caps tailor has claimed 60 wickets since the start of his Test career in 2020, operating from an equally dizzying trajectory.

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Simon Harmer is back for South Africa after a seven-year absence (Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Second chance for Simon Harmer

Seven years after his last international appearance, Simon Harmer has been called up to South Africa’s 17-man squad. The 32-year-old is eligible to play for the Proteas again after Kolpak’s loophole was closed.

The off-spinner, who last played for his country in November 2015, took seven wickets on his Test debut against West Indies in January, and went on to claim a further 20 wickets in eight innings.

Although he is likely to be a replacement for Keshav Maharaj, Harmer has booked his place on the plane thanks to a fine domestic first-class season in South Africa. Playing for Multiply Titans, Harmer picked up 27 wickets at 21.4 apiece and replaced George Linde.

Harmer has been a dominant and lethal figure for Essex in the County Championship in recent years, helping the club win the Championship titles in 2017 and 2019 and taking 90 wickets in 2021 across all formats.

Absence of Ajaz Patel

Ajaz Patel was again left out of New Zealand’s 15-man squad for the next round, despite becoming only the third bowler in history to take all 10 wickets in a Test inning. He could return for the second test, though, depending on the conditions and the status of a calf injury.

Patel matched the feat of Indian independent Anil Kumble against Pakistan in 1999 and Jim Laker at Old Trafford in 1956 when he disbanded India’s batting line-up in December.

Although he won 14 match wickets, this run was not enough to convince managers of his effectiveness on home grounds, where the spin is often used as an afterthought.

Allrounder Rachin Ravindra was preferred as the Black Caps rotation option and provides additional depth with the bat.



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