TELFORD VICE, Centurion
NEW Zealand, in the words of fast bowler Trent Boult on Thursday, find it “exciting” that their test series in SA will come down to a shootout at the Centurion corral.
After the rain-ruined first test at Kingsmead their coach, Mike Hesson, was also “excited” at the prospect of a winner-take-all game.
But, for SA captain Faf du Plessis, it was “disappointing” to have series honours on the line in one match – an opinion echoed on Thursday by Vernon Philander and Temba Bavuma.
Does this difference between the teams tell us which of them will be hungrier to win when the first ball is bowled on Saturday?
Perhaps, just as it suggests which of them have more confidence in their current form.
Before the Kingsmead match SA had won only one of their previous 10 tests. New Zealand had been victorious in five of their last 10 games.
New Zealand are No. 5 in the rankings and SA have dwindled to 7th. A draw in Centurion would see the teams hold those positions, as would a New Zealand victory. Should SA win they will rise to sixth.
But even though SA had New Zealand in early trouble on 15/2 when the weather ended proceedings in Durban, it wouldn’t have helped the home side’s self-belief that they had been bowled out for 263.
And there is more at stake in Centurion than the obvious. New Zealand have never won a test series against SA, home or away. SA have won all but three of the 13 rubbers the sides have contested since 1932.
Those are powerful incentives, but another failure for SA will hit them harder than would be the case among the New Zealanders if SA won.
Conversely, victory for the visitors would mean more than a win for SA would against opponents who, until last season, the Proteas would have been expected to dominate.
“A chance to play SA in a one-off test is very exciting,” Boult said. “Hopefully if we can put things together we can look at a series win.”
But Bavuma was on the other side of that fence: “It’s nice to play a three or four-match series where you really get to test your skills and temperament.
“With a one-off test, anyone can win. Whoever’s skill is good enough over those five days will get a favourable result.
“In saying that, we’ll approach it same way as we approach all our other games.”
For Philander, a sudden-death test “becomes the be-all and end-all”.
“We are going to give it our best shot,” Philander said. “Hopefully we come out tops.”
Taken at face value, those words will hardly strike a reassuring note in South African ears.
But Philander gave a glimpse of the steel he will take onto the field with him when he was asked how he thought he would fair on a pitch that is not expected to give seam bowlers much help.
The question came with a caveat: many think he is a force only in helpful conditions.
“We always need to prove ourselves wrong, first of all,” Philander said. “Proving other people wrong will always be there.
“There’s always going to be critics, there’s always going to be people who question you.”
If SA prove themselves wrong about the importance that suddenly has been attached to the Centurion test, they may just win the series.
Sometimes the question is the answer.