When it was announced that South Africa and New Zealand would play a one-day international series during the South African winter, the obvious marketing angle was that it would provide a rematch of the dramatic Cricket World Cup semi-final between the two teams.
New Zealand won the World Cup showdown with a six off the penultimate ball of the match in Auckland, New Zealand, in March.
However, the series, which starts at SuperSport Park in Centurion, South Africa, today is far from a replay. Both sides are missing key players.
New Zealand, in particular, have been hit hard by injuries as well as a player management policy that sees regular captain Brendon McCullum and fast bowler Tim Southee being rested.
Despite injuries ruling out Trent Boult, Corey Anderson, Ross Taylor and Mitchell Santner, the Black Caps showed in sharing a Twenty20 international series, which ended on Sunday, that they are capable of mounting a strong challenge.
After losing the first T20 match in Durban, South Africa, by six wickets, New Zealand bounced back by winning the second game by 32 runs in Centurion on Sunday.
Stand-in captain Kane Williamson praised the way the side had turned around their fortunes, but warned they would need to improve even further going into a 50-over series.
On the evidence of the T20 games, New Zealand are likely to need bigger contributions from their middle-order batsmen, after Williamson and Martin Guptill gave them good starts that were not fully capitalized on.
Williamson is likely to return to his regular No. 3 spot after opening in the short-form games.
South African captain A.B. de Villiers bemoaned his side’s inability to adapt to an untypical Centurion pitch, which in winter conditions was dry and slower than usual.
South Africa’s bowling is to be strengthened by the return of fast bowlers Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, and leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who missed the T20 games.
However, they are to be without fast bowler Morne Morkel, who is to join batsman J.P. Duminy on paternity leave.
New Zealand are currently third on the International Cricket Council one-day rankings list, one point ahead of fourth-placed South Africa.
Cricket South Africa chief executive Haroon Lorgat said the experiment of playing matches in August had been successful so far, with near-capacity crowds attending the T20 matches in Durban and Centurion, where groundsmen were able to prepare good batting surfaces.
At high altitude Centurion, the normally bleached winter grass was sprayed with a green dye, which could not disguise the dryness of the outfield, making sliding by fielders difficult.
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