Ex-skip­per warns that test cricket in NZ is some­thing else

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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 [2012] 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

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