As if the challenge isn't big enough already, New Zealand will have to tackle world No1 South Africa without their most experienced player next month.
Former captain and allrounder Dan Vettori is out of the tour, having failed to recover sufficiently from an Achilles injury he picked up during the world T20 in Sri Lanka in September.
He'd been troubled by a groin strain in the earlier West Indies tour, which means when the South African trip ends he will have missed New Zealand's last seven tests, in the West Indies, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa.
The left-arm spinner had been hoping to return to action with Northern Districts to prepare for the two-test series starting in Cape Town on January 2, and concluding in Port Elizabeth a week later. However the high-profile visit by England in February-March now looms as the 33-year-old's next international assignment.
No Vettori, who has taken 359 test wickets in 111 matches and averages 30 with the bat, most likely means a place for legspinner Todd Astle. That might not have seemed likely a few weeks ago.
However, Astle caught the eye with an encouraging debut in the win over Sri Lanka in Colombo last week, batting solidly in the second innings target-setting exercise, and taking his first test wicket, spinning the ball hard.
The New Zealand selectors, coach Mike Hesson and national selection manager Kim Littlejohn, were due to name the squads of 15 for the three T20 matches, which start the tour, and the two tests today. However it is now likely to be delayed until tomorrow.
That may relate to either the Sri Lankan tour debrief, which is known to have involved hard talking over whether Ross Taylor should stay as captain or be replaced, and the return to the country of New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White late today from International Cricket Council business in Dubai - or both.
If two spinners are deemed necessary, Astle and offspinner Jeetan Patel are in the front seats.
Central Districts' luckless legspinner Tarun Nethula, who spent much of his year carrying the drinks in the West Indies and India, is a non-starter after dislocating a shoulder last week.
Setting aside the roaring elephant in the corner of the selection room, there are other curly issues to confront.
Do they retain veteran seamer Chris Martin, a solid performer against South Africa - 52 wickets in 15 tests - but who wasn't wanted for the last three tests with the younger trio of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Doug Bracewell preferred?
What of wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk, who bagged a pair in the Colombo win. Another South African-born player, BJ Watling, is hovering. Both would relish playing against in the place of their birth, while Wellington's former Australian international Luke Ronchi slugged a rapid century against Auckland a week ago. Ronchi has two centuries in four games for Wellington. How critical are wicketkeeping runs around No 7 in the order? Very, you'd suggest.
The latest International Cricket Council rankings made grim reading for New Zealand. They have dipped below Bangladesh in ODI standings, and now sit ninth. New Zealand are eighth in tests and T20s. South Africa are first in tests, second in ODIs and fifth in T20s.By David Leggat Email David