TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
PIT the Springboks and the All Blacks against each other and, when both sides are in form, you have rugby’s answer to the Ashes – the pinnacle of the game in terms of quality and spectacle.
But that isn’t often true when those teams meet on the cricket ground: of their 40 tests SA have won 23 and New Zealand only four.
Which doesn’t mean the latter have not enjoyed success as individuals against this country.
New Zealanders have scored 16 centuries – one of them a double ton – against SA and four of their players have a career average of more than 50 with the Saffers as opposition.
SA’s batsmen have conceded 13 five-wicket hauls and one full bag of 10 wickets to Kiwi bowlers, four of whom have taken scalps against them at 20 runs apiece or fewer.
But flip that equation around and there’s no contest.
Forty-two centuries have flowed off South African bats in tests against New Zealand, three of those double hundreds, and 18 SA batsmen average more than 50 against them. For three players, that number leaps to three figures.
Twenty South African bowlers average less than 20 when taking aim at New Zealanders, who have succumbed to 32 five-wicket hauls and five 10-wicket hauls against SA.
But none of that muddle of numbers matters more than this: nought.
That’s how many of the 14 test bilateral series that the teams have contested, in both countries, since their first meeting in 1932, that New Zealand have won.
The closest the Kiwis have come to taking a series off SA was in 1961-62, 1963-64 and 2003-04 – drawn rubbers all.
SA are, officially, New Zealand’s bogey team: the Kiwis’ win/loss ratio against them, 0.173, is their lowest among all their opponents.
“SA is a country that we have never won a test series against,” New Zealand coach Mike Hesson said, sounding as if he was reciting a sign that might be stuck on his team’s dressingroom wall at Kingsmead when the first test starts on Friday.
“Whether its two tests or five we’ve had a lot of history and it’s something we haven’t been able to achieve. If we keep improving hopefully we are going to give ourselves a chance.”
New Zealand have done just that by overpowering Zimbabwe by an innings and 117 runs and by 254 runs in Bulawayo in the past three weeks.
SA will present a significantly stiffer challenge than their willing but wanting neighbours from across the Limpopo.
But they are on the decline, having slid from No. 1 in the rankings to No. 7 since January.
New Zealand, who were eighth on the ladder the last time they played SA, in January 2013, are now fifth.
“We prepared really nicely for the Zimbabwe series, coming out of winter and a lot of players coming out of different environments,” Hesson said.
“We recognise that the surfaces there are significantly different than they are here, hence the value of today and getting a transition net to get used to the bounce.
“As for having an expectation around the series, we just talk about getting better all the time.
“As a test side, bar the odd aberration, our ability has improved over the last few years but that doesn’t guarantee you anything.”
Except increased respect from your opponents, whatever your record against them.