South Africa open hostilities on Friday against New Zealand on a six-week tour they hope will climax with a 3-0 Test sweep that would see them topple England from the top of the Test rankings.
The tour begins in earnest with a Twenty20 international in Wellington but most attention will focus on next month’s Test series as South Africa, currently second in the ICC world rankings, look to become top dogs.
England’s lead in the rankings was slashed to a single point after their humiliating 3-0 whitewash against Pakistan, meaning South Africa can overtake them if they post a similar scoreline in the Test series against New Zealand.
But the Proteas have never managed a clean sweep in a three-Test series against the Black Caps and coach Gary Kirsten conceded his charges may have trouble adapting to unpredictable wickets.
“For any team it takes a bit of time to adjust to the weather and wickets,” he said. “The wickets can be quite different every time you come here.”
The tour, including three T20 internationals, three one-day internationals and three Tests, will provide a gauge for New Zealand coach John Wright of how far his team has come following his appointment in December 2010.
Wright guided the Black Caps to the semifinals of last year’s World Cup in a campaign which included a shock quarterfinal win over South Africa that was marred by an ugly spat after Proteas batsman AB de Villiers, now the one-day and T20 skipper, was run out.
New Zealand also scored a rare Test victory on Australian soil to draw a series with the Baggy Greens in December and Wright has unearthed a rich seam of young talent, including batsman Kane Williams and seamer Doug Bracewell.
And they are confident after a string of comprehensive wins over Zimbabwe over the past month in a Test match, three one-dayers and two T20 matches.
Kirsten, whose team is coming off a Test series win over Sri Lanka last month, said the World Cup bust-up with New Zealand was in the past.
“I don’t think we’re going to be worrying too much about what New Zealand are doing,” he said.
“We feel if we play really good cricket and don’t say anything we’re going to win more games than we’ll lose. If New Zealand feel they want to get verbal with us, that’s their business.” — AFP