New Zealand v South Africa
Wednesday 16 February 22.00
TV: live on BT Sport
Kiwis not full strength
New Zealand are the world champions, in case you've forgotten. You could be forgiven for allowing it to slip the mind. Losing to Bangladesh at home in not a good look.
There is a feeling of flux around this Kiwi team now. Kane Williamson, the skipper, is out again with his troublesome elbow injury, their highest rungetter Ross Taylor has retired and Trent Boult has an injury. How many international sides can cope with the loss of three such pivotal performers?
None, probably. They are fortunate to call on Kyle Jamieson, the all-rounder who continues to establish himself as the best in the world. Tom Latham leads instead and New Zealand could recall Rachindra Ravindra to bat in the lower-order and give them a spin option.
Tim Southee and Neil Wagner lead the attack and they are likely to be joined by one from Blair Tickner and Matt Henry.
Possible XI: Latham, Young, Conway, Nicholls, Mitchell, Blundell, Ravindra, Jamieson, Southee, Wagner, Ticker/Henry
South Africa strong
South Africa arrive in New Zealand full of confidence having beaten India in a thrilling Test series. Written off for so long and having lost players, they are fighting back.
And one of those who left them, Duanne Olivier, has returned to the fold in a sign that they are a force again. Olivier is part of a ferocious and brilliant pace attack alongside Marco Jansen, Lungi Ngidi and Kagiso Rabada.
The batting is, admittedly, shaky. And it is a great shame that the No 3 Kee-gan Petersen misses out after nailing his spot against India. He's come down with Covid.
Instead Zubayr Hamza gets another chance to realise his undoubted ability. Kyle Verreynne has the gloves after Quinton de Kock quit.
Depending on how worried South Africa are about that batting, they will probably pick Olivier or extra insurance in Wiann Mulder.
Possible XI: Elgar, Markram, Hamza, Rassie, Bavuma, Verreynne, Mulder/Olivier, Jansen, Maharaj, Ngidi Rabada
The Hagley Oval hosted a Test in January. New Zealand hit back to hammer Bangladesh after that shock defeat. They posted 521. The previous year they amassed 600-plus against Pakistan. There has been a recent bias for Asian teams being bundled out cheaply. Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in their last 12 combined efforts have not passed 300.
That is largely due to the alien seam and swing. South Africa really should be more capable. Four players survive from their 1-0 series win (three matches) in 2017. England's 2018 line-up scraped 300 and that may be more of a pointer.
Chance on the tourists
New Zealand are 1.875/6, South Africa 3.8514/5 and the draw is 4.03/1. The value seems obvious. It's South Africa. Our only concern about taking them at the odds to win is the lack of preparation time. But it is the modern way.
As usual in red-ball, bowling line-ups are king. And South Africa's just bristles with pace, power and guile. The latter in the form of Keshav Maharaj. Man for man they more than match their New Zealand rivals.
It should be a tight affair, though. In an ideal world we'd prefer South Africa to bat first because a fourth-innings chase will be tricky. Plenty of swings and flops but the Saffers deserve more respect against a depleted New Zealand.
Jamieson is probably our favourite Test player in the world. And not just because he is darn good. Most importantly he is still at that stage of his career when he is underrated by the bookies. The best bet is the 3/1 that he takes most South Africa wickets. We would have him favourite. There's also nothing wrong with the 40/1 he top scores in the first-innings for the hosts. It's a bonafide bonkers price.
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