Cricket: Black Caps and Proteas closer than imagined

By Kris Shannon

New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum will be hoping to pluck something out of the air. Photo / Getty Images
New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum will be hoping to pluck something out of the air. Photo / Getty Images

The New Zealand and South Africa cricket sides seem separated by a gulf in class as wide as the Indian Ocean, but there are more similarities than differences in the shortest form.

Twenty20 cricket has a way of levelling the playing field, and the Black Caps' best chance of experiencing success in their tour of the Republic is surely in the three-match series starting on Saturday morning (NZT).

The Proteas may be the No 1 side in tests and share with England the top billing in the one-day game, but they are a comparatively lowly fifth in the T20 standings.

New Zealand, sitting in eighth, are hardly in a position of strength but the rankings will give them hope of an upset, as will a number of other factors.

The sides' last Twenty20 action came at the World Cup in Sri Lanka, where both bowed out without a victory at the super eight stage.

The performances continued a rather underwhelming year in the hit-and-giggle format for the two teams, with South Africa winning six of 12 matches and New Zealand even worse with five from 14.

Those win totals would have been reversed, though, had the Black Caps' batsmen seen the side home from an eminently winnable position in the third match of the Proteas' tour to New Zealand earlier in the year.

After Martin Guptill (78 from 55) and Richard Levi (117 from 51) made defining contributions to leave the series level heading into the final game, New Zealand failed to muster 25 runs from the final five overs despite having seven wickets in hand.

The two teams have changed significantly since that series and, with Faf du Plessis handed the T20 reins for the South Africa, both also have new captains. The tourists head into the first match in Durban with six of their 15-man squad having never played a T20 international, while the hosts have four debutants in their ranks.

Only six Black Caps have played double-digit T20s for their country, leaving the squad average at 14 matches, while South Africa have seven such 'veterans' and possess an average of 12.

All of which goes to show, even with off-field drama still fresh in the New Zealanders' minds, the first challenge in this trying tour is more Mt Cook than Mt Everest.

"[We have] five new faces and South Africa have named four new faces so it will be a good, closely-contested series," said spinner Ronnie Hira.

"We played them at home earlier in the year and ran them close in the Twenty20s. Hopefully we can bring some of that out here to South Africa and give them a good run for their money."

The remodelled look of the Black Caps was reflected, Hira said, by new captain Brendon McCullum in a speech to his charges in which he backed the likes of 22-year-olds Corey Anderson and Jimmy Neesham to spur on the old guard.

"Hopefully they'll bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to it and drag the older guys like Brendon and [James Franklin] along - those were Brendon's words. Hopefully we can hit the ground running, get a good performance on Friday night and go from there."

The tour begins with a warm-up T20 against South Africa XI on Wednesday morning (NZT).


South Africa tour

Dec 22: 1st T20, Durban
Dec 24: 2nd T20, East London
Dec 27: 3rd T20, Port Elizabeth
Jan 2-6: 1st test, Cape Town
Jan 11-15: 2nd test, Port Elizabeth
Jan 19: 1st ODI, Paarl
Jan 23: 2nd ODI, Kimberley
Jan 26: 3rd ODI, Potchefstroom

- APNZ

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