The Proteas will press their claim to the No. 1 Test ranking when they begin a three-match series against New Zealand from Wednesday.
Ranked No. 2 behind England, South Africa has already demonstrated its superiority over eighth-ranked New Zealand in shorter formats, winning the Twenty20 series 2-1 and the one-day international series 3-0.
New Zealand is likely to be more competitive in the Test matches and will enter the first match with the same lineup that beat Australia by seven runs in its most-recent Test at Hobart in December.
South Africa have also been strengthened by the arrival of opener Alviro Petersen, batsman Jacques Rudolph, wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, fast bowler Vernon Philander and leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who did not play in the earlier series.
Coach Gary Kirsten said the Proteas must make a quick mental transition from the short forms to Test cricket and adapt to conditions which will likely suit the New Zealand team.
“We’re looking forward to the series,” Kirsten said. “It’s been a great tour for us so far … I think we have played better as the games have gone along, but it’s a new format and we need to make sure that we are mentally ready and up for it … It’s a quick turnaround from formats, so it is important for us to get ourselves mentally and physically prepared come Wednesday.”
South Africa have had to cope with bitterly cold conditions since their arrival in this South Island city but found a pitch at the picturesque University Oval that is likely to suit batsmen.
“We have to be able to play in any conditions and make the type of plays during the game that are going to allow us to have the success that we are looking for,” Kirsten said.
“We will not be scared of conditions or scared of what is dished up at us. We feel we have enough skill in our team to be able to handle all different circumstances … We know what our strengths are and we feel that if we can really play to our strengths against any team that we come up against we are going to be a tough team to beat.”
New Zealand will take a four-pronged pace attack into the match, relying on Tim Southee, Doug Bracewell, Chris Martin and left-armer Trent Boult to exploit seam movement and any swing available in a match likely to be played in overcast conditions. Showers are forecast for the first day on Wednesday with improved weather for the remaining days.
Former captain Daniel Vettori, whose left-arm spin will also contribute to New Zealand’s rounded bowling attack, said the home team was not bearing any psychological wounds after its mauling in the Twenty20 and one-day internationals.
“I don’t think the spirits need lifting,” he said. “It’s just bringing some experience back into the side and guys who’ve played a lot of games. That makes a huge difference when you bring in close to 200 Tests and I’m sure that’s going to help.”
Vettori said New Zealand faced a similar challenge in playing South Africa to the one they faced when they met and beat Australia late last year.
“It’s similar to Australia,” he said. “They’re one of the top teams in the world and we know if we play well then we can beat them. We’ve got to have that mindset no matter what.” — Sapa-AP
New Zealand: Ross Taylor (captain), Brent Arnel, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell, Andrew Ellis, Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Chris Martin, Rob Nicol, Tim Southee, Kruger van Wyk, Daniel Vettori, BJ Watling, Kane Williamson.
South Africa: Graeme Smith (captain), AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Mark Boucher, Marchant de Lange, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, Jacques Kallis, Morné Morkel, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Jacques Rudolph, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.