SA in New Zealand

History hugely favours Proteas

2012-03-20 12:56
Jacques Kallis (Gallo)
Cape Town – The rare luxury for them in New Zealand of being the team in the front-foot position ahead of the final Test must be a considerable comfort for South Africa as they contemplate the apparently gloomy and wet weather in Wellington ahead of Friday’s start (Thursday 23:30 SA time).

Somehow the boot seems to be handily on the other foot as the Black Caps chew on the wisdom of scheduling two autumnal Tests in a three-Test series on the more climatically fickle South Island.

It is they, after all, who are chasing the game in a 0-1 position and suddenly needing as much time as possible at the Basin Reserve to try to force victory and thus share the series.

If you examine tweets or reports from South African players and media in the lead-up to the contest, it seems the weather is already close to awful.

“Non-stop rain in Wellington,” lamented middle-order batsman Jacques Rudolph on Tuesday, while a Cricket South Africa news tweet said the team had resorted to an indoor practice.

The long-range forecast does not make especially encouraging reading from a New Zealand perspective, either: at this stage all of the first three days of the Test look overcast and damp.

Perhaps the best hope for Ross Taylor and company under the circumstances is that the pitch will create lottery conditions to some extent if it has been under covers and not exposed to any protracted sunshine in the build-up.

But if the Proteas do have a bit of a lingering “first-innings deficiency” problem, the New Zealanders have even greater, broader worries on the batting front and such conditions may only play into the hands of the tourists’ spicier attack.

A further tonic for Graeme Smith’s side, as they go all out to at least defend their series lead by not losing, is South Africa’s excellent track record at the Basin Reserve and the Black Caps’ contrasting modern woes there.

South Africa have played five Tests at the venue since 1932, winning four and drawing just one, and boast comfortable wins in each of the two games in the post-isolation era (1999 and 2004).

In both prior modern instances (and on each occasion the final encounter of three-Test series, like now) the Proteas were the team primarily in catch-up mode rather than with their noses in front: in 1999 their win broke the nil-nil situation to snatch the spoils, and in the last Test there Graeme Smith’s typically influential second-innings 125 not out ensured a six-wicket triumph and come-from-behind share of the series 1-1.

Veterans Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher are the only two current staffers to be survivors from as far back as the 1999 game.

Kingpin batsman Kallis, incidentally, has an unusually poor batting record at the “Reserve”, sporting only 22 runs from four completed Test knocks, so he has the incentive to put that right.

Disconcertingly for New Zealand, the often windswept ground has hardly been a fortress for them recently: the last seven Tests there have seen them emerge victorious only against weak Bangladesh, with defeats to Sri Lanka, England, Pakistan and Australia and further draws against Pakistan and India.

It never rains but it pours? Kiwis must be hoping for a change in fortune, both weather-wise and by the national side, and quickly ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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