Proteas stare down the barrel in bid to retain unbeaten series record in NZ
South Africa have never lost a Test series in New Zealand, but they are 1-0 down going into the second Test in Hamilton on Tuesday and face a daunting task.
On paper it should be another mismatch as South Africa try to recover from a 281-run first Test defeat against New Zealand and salvage something from this short series.
At least the Proteas won’t go into the Test with six new caps, but in terms of experience they’re still way off the depth the Black Caps can produce.
Every discipline in the first Test was below par. Bowling first, the Proteas failed to impose themselves with their mild seam attack, as the home team piled on 511.
Both Kane Williamson (118) and Rachin Ravindra (240) were dropped early in their first innings. Black marks against the fielding.
In their second innings, New Zealand scored 179 for four at more than four runs an over. More woes for the bowlers.
And in terms of batting, the Proteas, with the added burden of scoreboard pressure after New Zealand went beyond 500, folded for 162 in their first dig. They were only marginally better in the second attempt, scoring 247, with David Bedingham contributing a decent 87.
Captain and opener Neil Brand, who took eight wickets with his part-time spin in the first Test, knows his batting has to improve if his side stands any chance of a better outcome. The same goes for fellow opener Eddie Moore and top order bat Raynard van Tonder if they are picked.
It seems that Bedingham, Zubayr Hamza and Keegan Petersen, three players who arrived in New Zealand with some Test experience, will all start again.
“I don’t think we are miles off. I said to the boys afterwards (the first Test), ‘I think we were good for about 65% of the game’,” Brand said.
“Obviously we have to learn pretty quickly at this level and it’s something we are desperate to do and to put it right.
“We have to do the right things for longer, and I have to find a way to get through the new ball which has been tricky in these conditions.
“The wickets look like they are getting better for batting the longer you can hang out there. So, it’s just about keeping our confidence high and making sure we keep believing in ourselves.”
Coach Shukri Conrad might look to reshape the bowling attack, especially the seam department which managed to take only three of New Zealand’s 14 wickets in the first Test.
There aren’t too many places to turn, though.
Mihlali Mpongwana is in line for a debut. Out of the seamers on tour, he appears to be the quickest. Raw pace and aggression was something the Proteas lacked in the first Test.
Mpongwana last played a first-class match at the end of December and is certainly match-shy. On that occasion for Western Province, he claimed three for 46 against Boland.
The Proteas may opt for another spinner in Dane Piedt, meaning all-rounder Ruan de Swardt could sit out despite being the most disciplined of South Africa’s bowlers in the first Test with his tidy medium pace.
According to New Zealand skipper Tim Southee, Seddon Park in Hamilton has this season played with “a bit of pace and bounce in it, but it also tends to be more humid here in Hamilton, so hopefully a bit of swing.”
Conrad has not backed away from justified criticism of the first Test performance, but he still believes his inexperienced side can show some fight.
“A few of them (players) would have taken a knock in terms of the harsh realities that Test cricket brings, and possibly how far away they still are,” Conrad said after the first Test.
“Many feel that they’re closer to the Test side than they currently are. You go through a few days like they have been through, and that’s a jolt and a wake-up call.
“Every time you play in a Test, there’s an expectation that, even though maybe you can’t do all the swimming strokes, perhaps you can doggy paddle for a reasonable time and not drown,” Conrad said.
“Yes, they’ve been thrown into the deep end. But it’s a great opportunity for the players to put their hands up and, as a group, go back to the first-class system and spread the gospel in terms of what the requirements are and what their experiences were.
“Hopefully in that way we can uplift the standard and not create expectations at every turn when someone gets a five-wicket haul or scores a hundred at domestic level.
“But, yes, it is a sink or swim situation.” DM