Third Test preview: NZ v South Africa
As it was at the beginning so shall it be at the end. New Zealand and South Africa face each other in Test cricket for the fifth time this season as their home and away series bookend the season.
New Zealand of course began their season in Zimbabwe but would face the Proteas in two Tests at the tail end of the South African winter.
The Proteas shook off their ring rust and began a Test series winning streak by beating the Black Caps 1-0 in that series and now lead the return series by the same margin as they head to Hamilton to conclude their Test season.
This campaign has proven to be a breakout season for South African-born Black Caps quick Neil Wagner who has developed an aggressive style of short-pitched bowling and established himself in the XI.
Wagner will arguably face the biggest Test of his progress in Hamilton as he assumes the mantle of leader of the attack in the absence of injured strike bowlers Tim Southee and Trent Boult.
The injuries coupled with the likelihood of a slow pitch mean that the Kiwis will almost certainly play both spinners in their squad and either retain allrounder Colin de Grandhomme or hand a debut to Northern Districts quick Scott Kuggeleijn alternatively quick bowler Matt Henry may get the nod and both allrounders could sit out.
To make matters worse for the hosts they are still without veteran middle-order batsman Ross Taylor although the form of left-hander Henry Nicholls does soften the blow.
Taylor’s direct replacement Neil Broom has struggled against the Proteas and will need to impress to keep himself in the selectors thoughts.
The Proteas were made to sweat on the fitness of wicketkeeper batsman and top scorer in the second Test Quinton de Kock but the left-hander passed a late fitness Test and will take his place in the XI.
Vernon Philander returns to the scene of his career best figures and will be looking to reap the rewards for the quality bowling he has produced in the series thus far.
The South African top order are in desperate need of runs with Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy yet to register a score of note.
The Proteas strength is their pace attack which has spooked New Zealand into preparing pitches away from their own traditional strengths and the slow Hamilton wicket may prompt the Proteas to use off-spinner Dane Piedt in conjunction with left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj to create a mirror image of New Zealand’s dual spin attack of Mitchell Santner and Jeetan Patel.
A win for South Africa may propel them to second on the ICC Test rankings which would land them a big payday with the April cutoff for the Test championship looming with India having sealed top spot. They will have to rely on India beating current second place team Australia though.
Tom Latham needs to find form for the Black Caps in order to shield skipper and middle-order kingpin Kane Williamson from the dangers of the Proteas new ball attack.
Wagner must lead the Black Caps pace attack and is also likely to bowl a huge number of overs if the Proteas get set, his ability to break partnerships with wily short pitched bowling could just keep New Zealand in the game.
Amla needs to find some runs in the middle-order especially if Stephen Cook keeps misfiring at the top of the innings.
Philander’s wiles will be critical for the South African attack on a wicket that is unlikely to assist the seamers too much.
New Zealand XI (probable): 1 Tom Latham, 2 Jeet Raval, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Neil Broom, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 James Neesham, 8 Mitchell Santner, 9 Jeetan Patel, 10 Matt Henry 11 Neil Wagner
South Africa XI (probable) 1 Stephen Cook, 2 Dean Elgar, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Faf du Plessis (capt), 5 JP Duminy, 6 Temba Bavuma, 7 Quinton de Kock (wk), 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Keshav Maharaj, 10 Morne Morkel/Dane Piedt, 11 Kagiso Rabada
Last five head-to-head
2017 Second Test: South Africa won by six wickets at the Basin Reserve in Wellngton
2017 First Test: Drawn match at the University Oval in Dunedin
2016 Second Test: South Africa won by 204 runs at Supersport Park in Centurion
2016 First Test: Drawn match at Kingsmead in Durban
2013 Second Test: South Africa won by an innings and 193 runs at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth.
Dates: 25-29 March 2017
Morning session: 11:00-13:00 (22:00-00:00 GMT -d)
Afternoon session: 13:40-15:40 (00:40-02:40 GMT)
Evening session: 16:00-18:00 (03:00-05:00 GMT)
On-field umpires: Bruce Oxenford and Rod Tucker
Third umpire: Kumar Dharmasena
Match referee: David Boon
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