The biggest rivalry in global rugby – between All Blacks and Springboks – is not mirrored in world cricket but Dean Elgar and Tim Southee think it could be. Last week, they both spoke of the “great rivalry” that exists between their two cricket sides but you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re simply talking things up.
Historically, the cricketing match-up between South Africa and New Zealand has been quite one-sided. South Africa have dominated these encounters – pre- and post-readmission – and won 13 of the 16 series they’ve played against New Zealand, who have not emerged victorious from any. All told, New Zealand have only beaten South Africa four times in 45 Tests but the teams meet so infrequently that perhaps these numbers don’t really matter.
They last played against each other five years ago, in 2017, and South Africa beat New Zealand 1-0. In the third Test, they may have got lucky due to rain but still they won the series. Only four members of the current South African squad – Elgar, Temba Bavuma, Keshav Maharaj and Kagiso Rabada – played in that series and they have since undergone an overhaul, mainly in administration but also in personnel, and can finally have the foundations of a rebuild.
If they thought batting would be easier than it has been at home, they’re probably wrong. This has been built up as a contest of the quicks with 14 seamers sprinkled across both squads. As was the case during South Africa’s series against India, it may not be about big runs as much as it is about crucial partnerships, strong temperaments and small margins.
There are important incentives to do well for both teams though. New Zealand are the current holders of the Test mace and ranked No. 2, so beating them would arguably rank higher for South Africa than their recent success against India at home. It would also strengthen South Africa’s position on the World Test Championship points table. New Zealand, meanwhile, dropped points against Bangladesh and they visit England and Pakistan later this year, so they need to bank all the home points they can.
New Zealand WLLDW (last five Tests, most recent first)
South Africa WWLWW
In the spotlight
New Zealand: (probable) 1 Tom Latham (capt), 2 Will Young, 3 Devon Conway, 4 Henry Nicholls, 5 Daryl Mitchell, 6 Tom Blundell (wk), 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Kyle Jamieson, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Matt Henry
Sarel Erwee is the favourite to make his debut at No. 3 ahead of Zubayr Hamza or Ryan Rickelton. Though he is an opening batter, he has been travelling with the South African side over the last year and Elgar has thrown his weight behind giving Erwee an opportunity. Though Maharaj didn’t bowl much during the India series, South Africa are usually reluctant to go without a spinner, which could see him keep his place. Should South Africa dispense with Maharaj, they may look to Wiaan Mulder or one of Glenton Stuurman or Lutho Sipamla for an extra seam-bowling option.
South Africa: (probable) 1 Dean Elgar (capt), 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Sarel Erwee 4 Rassie van der Dussen, 5 Temba Bavuma, 6 Kyle Verreynne (wk), 7 Marco Jansen, 8 Keshav Maharaj, 9 Kagiso Rabada 10 Duanne Olivier, 11 Lungi Ngidi
Pitch and conditions
After persistent rain in the build-up, the weather mostly cleared in Christchurch. Days will be sunny and mild, with temperatures in the early 20s but there is a 90% chance of rain on the third day.
Stats and trivia
“They’re a quality side. They’ve come off beating India in South Africa a couple of weeks ago. They’ve got classy players throughout. While they lack experience, they’re a different team from what we’ve seen in the past, we cannot underestimate them.”
Gary Stead doesn’t want New Zealand to take the opposition lightly
“The teams of the past have been really successful over here. The conditions favour seam bowling, and that might be a reason for that. It’s a proud record to be part of. It’s different in this series. They’ve been really successful over the last two years. They’ve played a lot of cricket at home. They know their conditions well and they are quite suited to it.”
Rassie van der Dussen is aware of South Africa’s unbeaten record against New Zealand but thinks it will be more difficult to do so this time
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent