TELFORD VICE, Bulawayo
HAVING nursed his team through a hiding dished out by New Zealand, Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer is perfectly placed to give us a heads-up as the Kiwis cross the Limpopo to take on SA.
And, mindful of the absence from SA’s ranks of the injured AB de Villiers and Morne Morkel, Cremer is just about ready to place his bet.
“That’ll play a big role,” Cremer said. “I would almost back New Zealand without those two guys there.”
It’s not hard to see why. De Villiers is cricket’s most destructive batsman and Morkel was a pillar of SA’s attack last season.
Their loss will be felt when the teams clash at Kingsmead next Friday in the first of two tests, especially as New Zealand are coming off a 2-0 series triumph up north.
On Wednesday, they beat an increasingly nuggety Zimbabwe by 254 runs. The visitors won the first match, also in Bulawayo, by an innings and 117 runs.
New Zealand scored six centuries in those four innings, and while their bowlers were limited to one five-wicket haul they kept the home side’s batsmen under pressure most of the time.
Well enough, in fact, to claim a wicket every 9.2 overs, an impressive strike-rate considering Queens Sports Club is the scene of 38 centuries, four of them double tons, in the 21 tests hosted there.
The Kiwis’ got their six of the best by way of two each from Tom Latham and Ross Taylor, and the others from Kane Williamson and BJ Watling.
All but two of their top six reached three figures in the two tests.
“New Zealand have a solid team and within that team they have some really key players,” Cremer said. “Kane and Ross with the bat, they’re right up there in the world; they score runs all the time.”
But, even without De Villiers, Cremer didn’t think runs would rule in SA.
“The batting is pretty much strength versus strength,” he said. “I think the crucial thing will be the two seam attacks.
“Whoever bowls the best will win that series, and it’ll come down to the seamers.”
South Africans will recognise Tim Southee and Trent Boult as the prime threats, but aggressive left-armer Neil Wagner was the leading fast bowler in Zimbabwe with his haul of 11 wickets at 17.00.
And that’s not all: the Kiwis have pace reserves in Doug Bracewell and Matt Henry.
SA aren’t short of firepower themselves, what with Dale Steyn fit and firing again and Kagiso Rabada standing tall on the crest of a wave of success.
But wait, there’s more in the shape of Vernon Philander, Kyle Abbott, Chris Morris and Wayne Parnell.
Even Mike Hesson, New Zealand’s coach, admitted envy.
“When you look at SA’s pace bowling depth, every country around the world would like something like that,” he said.
“We certainly would and it’s an area of strength for us.”
New Zealand haven’t won any of their seven test series in SA, and have celebrated victory in only three of their 23 matches while losing 16.
But, with a bowlers’ duel in the offing this time, that could change – fast.