IN MIND OVER MATTER TERRITORY – BIFF
Ex-skipper warns that test cricket in NZ is something else
Former Proteas captain Graeme Smith expects the conditions in New Zealand to be every bit as challenging for his former team mates as playing the Black Caps themselves in the three-test series, which begins on Friday. Smith, who scored the most runs (282) in South Africa’s 1-0 win the last time they toured New Zealand, said the conditions at the University Oval in Dunedin, Seddon Park (Hamilton) and Wellington’s Basin Reserve – the same venues as before – would demand the requisite adjustment from the Proteas.
“It’s a very different experience to playing a test match anywhere else in the world,” Smith said. “Dunedin is a quirky little ground in a student town, and the crowd is quite close to the players.
“In New Zealand, the overhead conditions and not so much the movement of the ball can play a big role. It can be quite cold and the wind just pumps from the one end, and you can lose a lot of days to rain, which was a factor on that  tour.”
Consequently, Smith said the Proteas would have to adjust mentally to the conditions, as well as try to cope with a team that is traditionally difficult to beat at home.
“There are things you have to take into consideration – you have to talk to the bowlers and tell some people they’ll have to bowl into the wind.
“You have to adapt because it can be sunny, cloudy, windy and cold. Playing in New Zealand is not glamorous cricket, you have to be solid and tough it out. It’s not five-star cricket – you’re playing to get a job done.”
As if that isn’t enough, there is also the small matter of the Black Caps themselves, who are steadily changing from mere plucky, streetwise players to world-class operators. In the past, their seam bowlers relied on taking pace off the ball and frustrating batsmen, but their quicks can now force the issue.
“They’ve got real quality players like [batsman and captain] Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor. And quality quicks in Trent Boult and Tim Southee. We’re talking more one-day cricket here – in test cricket, they’ve had spurts of success.
“But you’ll always find a New Zealand team at home is tough to beat,” said Smith.
For all that, Smith believes the Proteas have more than enough to quell a much improved New Zealand team.
That said, keep in mind that a South African team on their way to the number one test ranking in 2012 had struggled to beat an inferior Black Caps side – winning just one of the three tests and drawing the other two.
Smith said: “It’s going to be a tough challenge, but we have enough talent and ability to be okay. We’ve got the bowlers and, if the top six can perform, then someone like Quinton de Kock can be freed to make life difficult for the opposition as Adam Gilchrist used to do for Australia.
“With AB de Villiers’ injury, JP Duminy has added a different style dynamic. The openers need to manage the tempo and the top seven all have the ability to score hundreds. There’s a good balance between stroke makers and gutsy players.”
On whether the cares of the captaincy were taking their toll on Williamson, whose numbers haven’t been as flash as they were before he replaced Brendon McCullum, Smith said he wasn’t sure what the problem was.
“It’s always difficult to know what affects a guy’s batting – it could be just a phase,” he said. “One of the things I learnt is that when you captain your country, there’s nowhere to hide.”
FOCUS Former Proteas captain Graeme Smith says the team should brace themselves for a tough outing