The theme of revenge for South Africa’s 2015 Cricket World Cup semifinal loss to the Black Caps has been well established. The Proteas came to Auckland with every reason to think they had what it took to seize a place in the World Cup final, but were denied at the last moment.
The Limited Overs leg of this year’s tour begins tomorrow and involves six matches. For South Africa there might be something of the 2015 World Cup about it, as the final match is, once again, at Eden Park.
The leg begins with a T20, also at Eden Park. Much of the interest in the T20 revolves about the late call-up of prodigious Auckland talent Glenn Phillips, who is replacing the injured Martin Guptill.
The 20-year old Phillips is already being talked about as a talent on the order of Kane Williamson and Tom Latham. In last year’s Super Smash he scored 369 runs at an average of 46 and a strike rate of 143, including one century scored at a strike rate of 200.
That is the sort of hitting the Black Caps will need at the top if they are to find an adequate replacement for Guptill. In limited overs matches the Black Caps know that if Guptill goes big, they win, because his striking ability is unmatched.
New Zealand sit comfortably on top of the current world T20I rankings, with South Africa at fourth. It’s almost exactly the other way around in the ODIs, with South Africa ranked at the top and the Black Caps third.
Despite that, the Black Caps are currently paying $2.34 on BetFair to win the T20, so there appears to be some value there.
The South African batting features four of the top ranked seven batsmen in the world at the moment, in AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla and Quentin de Kock. With any four of those players capable of a matchwinning innings, that makes the Proteas top order arguably the strongest ODI top order that has ever come to these shores.
The Black Caps, for their part, have a diverse and highly skilled array of artillery to break through this. But barring Trent Boult, who is currently ranked the No. 2 ODI bowler, none of them can rightly be said to be at the same skill level as the South African batting lineup.
Although there is much to choose from out of Matt Henry, Tim Southee, Lockie Ferguson, Mitchell McClenaghan and Adam Milne (the latter two returning from injury), none of those names pose the known and established threat that Boult does.
Probably the Black Caps will pick Trent Boult, one of the two speedsters (likely to be Ferguson who is in the squad ahead of Milne) and the other spot will be decided by who is best for the conditions out of Henry and Southee.
Ish Sodhi will also be back in case the Black Caps decide to try and strangle the South Africans with the spin of Sodhi, Mitchell Santner and perhaps even Williamson. If the seamers end up getting dominated by the superb Proteas batsmen, expect a wholesale shift to Plan B: strangle by spin.
The South African bowling unit would generally back itself to defend the large totals their batsmen would expect to put up. They have the No. 1 ranked ODI bowler in Imran Tahir, and the ever-more impressive Kagiso Rabada, who is ranked equal with Matt Henry at 7.
Rabada ought to find New Zealand pitches to his liking, with his Courtney Walsh-style action a test of any batsman’s technique. Chris Morris might be hard to get away but Wayne Parnell, JP Duminy and Andile Phehlukwayo will not be names the Black Caps batsmen are afraid of.
Dean Brownlie scored an excellent 63 in the Black Caps’ Hadlee-Chappell winning effort in their last ODI against Australia, and he has been selected to open in place of Guptill for the first two ODIs (Guptill is expected to be fit for the third).
The rest of the Black Caps top order looks very strong, with Latham, Williamson and Ross Taylor making up the remainder. With Luke Ronchi back in the ODI squad there is plenty of middle order hitting power as well.
Expect a high-scoring series in stark contrast to the recent Hadlee-Chappell, as both South Africa and the Black Caps have considerably stronger batting lineups than they do bowling attacks. It is, however, likely to be close, with a 3-2 win to the Proteas probably the slight favourite over a 3-2 to the Black Caps.