TELFORD VICE, Bulawayo
NEW Zealand have been trying to win a test series in SA for almost 63 years. What are their chances of breaking that duck when the teams clash at Kingsmead and Centurion in the second half of August?
If you go on the evidence of the Kiwis’ last series in SA, not good.
They were dismissed for 45 on their way to an innings defeat inside three days at Newlands and also succumbed by an innings at St George’s Park.
But that was three years ago, a time in which much has changed for both teams. Now one of them is on the up and the other in decline
SA have won 42.31% of their tests since that 2013 rubber and New Zealand 41.9%.
Before that series SA were winners in 47% of their post-isolation matches. In the same period, New Zealand won 25.9% of the time.
That’s a swing of 16% in the right direction for the Kiwis and 4.69% the wrong way for the Saffers.
By the time the coin goes up for the toss at Kingsmead next Friday SA will be seventh and New Zealand fifth.
SA were ranked No. 1 and New Zealand eighth when they last met in SA.
Of their last 10 tests SA have won only one. New Zealand? Five, the last of them when they beat Zimbabwe by 254 runs in Bulawayo on Wednesday to clinch the series 2-0.
All of which must mean the Kiwis are better team than when they last visited us.
“We are, and I think our performances in the last two or three years of test cricket would suggest that,” coach Mike hesson said.
“But we’re still a developing side; I don’t think we’re as good as we can be.
“We know our record in SA has not been great and we know we’re going to have to play extremely well to change that. But we’re a determined bunch.”
Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith are no longer pillars of SA’s dressingroom, which they were in 2013, just as Daniel Vettori and Brendon McCullum have ridden into New Zealand’s sunset.
However, while SA are still trying to overcome their loss the Kiwis are well on their way into a new era.
They have been blessed with fine batting performances by both new and old faces in Zimbabwe.
Ross Taylor, who is playing his 71st test in Bulawayo, was not dismissed in any of his three innings in the series – and scored 173, 124 and 67.
Tom Latham, who won his 20th cap in the second test, also has two centuries on tour.
BJ Watling owns another ton as does captain Kane Williamson, whose 113 in the first innings of the second test made him the first New Zealander and the youngest player overall to score test centuries against all nine opponents.
Which means New Zealand have been gifted hundreds by an opener, and their Nos. 3,4 and six.
That’s heavyweight batting, even considering Zimbabwe’s weak attack and Bulawayo’s docile pitches.
Neil Wagner bowled like a Highveld thunderstorm in the first test for his career-best match figures of 8/103.
He has played 21 tests, which amounts to a quarter of the experience the other members of New Zealand’s pace pack in Zimbabwe, Tim Southee and Trent Boult, will bring to the party in SA.
If the visitors have a weakness it’s among their slow poisoners, where leg spinner Ish Sodhi and left-armer Mitchell Santner have been outbowled by Zimbabwe leg-spinner Graeme Cremer.
But how big a role spin will play at Kingsmead and Centurion in August is an unanswerable question.
Regardless, SA – who will be weakened by the absence of the injured AB de Villiers and Morne Morkel – should know that, this time, New Zealand start as favourites.