First Test preview: South Africa v NZ

New Zealand

South Africa, despite ongoing insistence they won't write off January's opposition, must consider this series their easiest of the past 10 months.

South Africa, despite ongoing insistence they won't write off January's opposition, must consider this series their easiest of the past 10 months.

Upstaging England in their own backyard and trumping the Australians Down Under were no mean feats and, really, fans can allow the hosts to rest on their laurels this month.

What the Black Caps couldn't achieve earlier this year, when Graeme Smith's men won easily, they are not going to manage in 2013. Former New Zealand fast bowler Simon Doull, now a touring pundit, even reckons fifth day tickets won't be required at Newlands.

Still, there is something to be gained from a two-match affair expected to be entirely one-sided – and rightly so. Coach Gary Kirsten and vice-captain AB de Villiers have spoken of the need to truly own the number one ranking, and utter domination of Brendon McCullum's men will go a long way in fortifying that ambition.

De Villiers' role as wicketkeeper-batsman, too, needs solidifying. He believes he is capable of performing the dual role, but many critics beg to differ. The rise of the young Quinton de Kock and the fall of the rejected Thami Tsolekile, meanwhile, heighten the variables for consideration.

Over in the visiting camp, there are far more questions.

Robbed of the leadership of the ousted Ross Taylor and sporting a distinctly makeshift seam attack in the wake of a slew of injuries, the New Zealanders face a near impossible task at Newlands and beyond.

Yet again, at least two of their top six batsmen will need to dig deep en route to big centuries and their bowling ranks must muster 20 wickets – both facets evaded them time and time again through 2012. 2013, of course, offers the opportunity of a reasonably clean slate.

There is hope, too, in the presence of seamer Mitchell McClenaghan and batsman Colin Munro. While not of the calibre of the men they replaced, the duo at least bring a promising dynamic to the lineup. The fast bowler, in particular, impressed in the T20I series – and has since gained selection across all three formats.

Tickets sales have belied the 'mighty vs minnow' nature of the clash, or so Cricket South Africa have professed. Day one at Newlands is a sellout, while weekend sales are brimming. Hence, the interest is there, and one only hopes the opening fixture is more competitive than anticipated.

<b>Key Men</b><br>The man of the moment in the wake of Imran Tahir's dumping, <b>Robin Peterson's</b> second coming in the Test arena has plenty to prove.

Tim Southee's absence due to injury has left plenty of responsibility on the shoulders of <b>Trent Boult</b>. A fine exponent of swing bowling, day one in Cape Town – if cloud cover and the toss obliges – will offer him a big chance at early success.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2012: Third Test: Match drawn in Wellington<br>2012: Second Test: South Africa won by nine wickets in Hamilton<br>2012: First Test: Match drawn in Dunedin<br>2007: Second Test: South Africa won by an innings and 59 runs in Centurion<br>2007: First Test: South Africa won by 358 runs in Johannesburg

<b>Prediction</b><br>Online betting firm <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>Sky Bet</b></a> have South Africa at 1/4 and New Zealand at 10/1 in the odds to win the first Test. Visit Sky Bet for the latest cricket <a href='' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>betting</b></a>.

More <a href='http://' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>cricket bets here.</b></a>

<b>Probable Teams</b><br><i>South Africa:</i> Graeme Smith (captain), Alviro Peterson, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers (wicketkeeper), Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn.

<i>New Zealand:</i> Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum (captain), Kane Williamson, Dean Brownlie, Daniel Flynn, BJ Watling (wicketkeeper), James Franklin, Doug Bracewell, Jeetan Patel, Trent Boult, Chris Martin.

<b>Dates:</b> 2-6 January<br><b>Morning session:</b> 10:30-12:30 (08:30-10:30 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 13:10-15:10 (11:10-13:10 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 15:30-17:30 (13:30-15:30 GMT)<br><b>On-field umpires:</b> Ian Gould and Rod Tucker<br><B>Third umpire:</B> Kumar Dharmasena<BR><b>Match referee:</b> David Boon