Proteas, beware NZ speedsters
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Tim Southee and Chris Martin (File)
Cape Town - It once had a reputation as the land of the nagging, dibbly-dobbly seamer, but New Zealand’s Test cricket team is fast altering that hallmark ... with “fast” seemingly the operative word.
For South Africa may just find that, however trumpeted their own pace cupboard may be, their hosts are surprisingly willing to fight fire with fire in the three-Test series.
That much was apparent in the way the Black Caps, sporting a lively four-strong seam attack plus experienced left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori, brutally destroyed Zimbabwe in the one-off Test match at Napier, winning by the gaping margin of an innings and 301 runs.
Even from afar, and relying primarily on television highlights packages for evidence, it was clear that the New Zealanders are beginning to fancy more and more the capability of their youth-dominated speedsters, who found the bounce and seam movement at McLean Park much to their collective liking.
Say what you like about Zimbabwe, their side fielded enough reasonably seasoned Test players for observers to assume they might have fared rather better than be bowled out for 51 in their first innings and then be an equally embarrassing 37 for six in the follow-on before a tail-end rally of sorts to comfortably clear the 100-mark.
But once the frisky Kiwi attack - adapting tidily to life in a post-Shane Bond landscape, it seems - got the scent of blood, they appeared hungry to ensure there would be no let-up for the rather cowed southern Africans.
While they probably cannot consistently match the likes of Dale Steyn
or Morne Morkel for speeds in the vicinity of 145km/h, several of the New Zealand bowlers comfortably sent down deliveries just below the 140km/h mark, and aggression and intent is not always measured purely in rate of knots anyway.
Of course conditions in the just-finished Napier Test may have been a little deceptive; the Proteas will not play a Test there, the venues instead being Dunedin, Hamilton and Wellington, where the more typical New Zealand characteristic of slower, suffocating tracks may come back into play.
And the host nation will only be too mindful of South Africa’s more established credentials in the pace department.
But a message has nevertheless been sent out by the Black Caps in recent weeks: we stand back for nobody.
After all, their prior Test to the slaughter of Zimbabwe was a priceless victory over neighbours Australia in Hobart to square the short away series 1-1, where once again their seam battery came very much into their own.
New Zealand’s pace arsenal is an interesting one, still fronted as it is by the 37-year-old Chris Martin, a veteran of 65 Tests.
Of course he is not the lead singer of Coldplay, who goes by the same name ... but is clearly on song all the same, having just claimed a career-best innings analysis of six for 26 against the Zimbabweans.
Martin offers the key element of experience, which is a good foil for the remainder of the fast-medium battery, where you take a plunge of some 14 years to the next oldest customer, 23-year-old Tim Southee.
The latter is highly regarded by Allan Donald
, the Proteas bowling coach who had a stint with the Black Caps fairly recently and believes Southee could yet blossom into the world’s premier swing bowler.
Other pacemen in the lively current Black Caps mix are Trent Boult, a 22-year-old left-armer, and Doug Bracewell, a further year his junior but already sporting 21 wickets from only four Test appearances (average an almost Philander-like 16.47), including match figures of nine for 60 in the landmark triumph over the Aussies at Bellerive Oval.
The one snag the New Zealanders may have as they contemplate South Africa’s altogether stiffer challenge than Zimbabwe, is whether they will have the courage to again risk Vettori as high as the the No 6 batting slot, in order to facilitate actually playing a four-pronged pace attack.
The former captain gets better and better with the blade, but it still seems unlikely that they would be comfortable with him stationed any higher than seven against the Proteas.
South Africa start their tour on February 15 with a Twenty20 warm-up match against Canterbury, then play both limited-overs series ahead of the Tests - their first there since 2003/04 when the series was shared 1-1.
New Zealand tours can be tests of patience and durability, but there are fairly strong signs, I suspect, of a rather more gung-ho element being present mutually on South Africa’s 2011/12 trek there ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing