Sunday Times

Proteas unit’s journey into the unknown


Players and coaches on both teams will be relieved that some action on the field might finally shift the conversati­on from South Africa’s decision to select a drasticall­y understren­gth team for the two-match Test series against New Zealand.

It will continue to be the major topic on day one, mainly because commentato­rs and spectators will have to look up exactly who is wearing the Proteas Test cap.

Captain Neil Brand will make his debut in a match which could feature up to five new caps for the tourists, depending on the balance of the starting XI they choose.

Tim Southee, the New Zealand captain, said it was virtually impossible for his team to source any kind of video footage of the new Proteas players.

Meanwhile, Dane Piedt, who has played in nine Tests, has attempted a novel project on Instagram, where he has introduced some of his teammates to the public — both in New Zealand and SA.

Thanks to Piedt, we have learned that Mihlali Mpongwana is the quiet type, Brand looks like English striker Harry Kane, and Clyde Fortuin — who may don the wicketkeep­er’s gloves — fancies himself as a good footballer.

“There are some very good players in that (SA) dressing room. I’m pretty sure a few of the guys will still be in the side in a few months’ time,” Brand said in the obligatory pre-match engagement with local media yesterday.

The New Zealanders, while acknowledg­ing the lack of intel about the opposition, weren’t falling into the trap of disrespect­ing them, a point noted by Brand. “New Zealand, from what I’ve heard, aren’t arrogant people,” he said.

“I’m sure they will have their heads (screwed) on properly for this series. I’ve seen Kane (Williamson) say they won’t be taking us lightly. It will be a tough series for us, and we will have to do extremely well to compete with them.”

While New Zealand, no doubt with their focus having been intensifie­d by Australia’s loss last week to an under-strength West Indies, won’t want to fall into any complacenc­y trap, the South Africans — some of them, at least — are going into the series with a chip on their shoulders.

Both Keegan Petersen — for whom this is a crucial series — and Duanne Olivier, have said they found the commentary about the team’s compositio­n disrespect­ful.

How long that energy to prove people wrong will endure could be crucial to how the first couple of days at Bay Oval in Mt Maunganui unfolds.

While the SA players have acknowledg­ed the lack of Test experience in their ranks, they have also explained how they have plenty of first-class knowledge — with a figure of 96 being mentioned as the average number of first-class matches shared between them

They will lean heavily on that, but those like Olivier, who has 15 Tests to his name, know that the five-day game is a major step up from normal first-class cricket. Besides the fact that they are far away from home — in a country the majority of the players and coaching staff have never visited — there is the opposition.

New Zealand have one of the all-time great batters in Williamson, while Southee, Neil Wagner and Devon Conway have all left indelible marks in the Test format.

Being able to sustain their best level over a lengthy period, from hour to hour and session to session, will be the biggest challenge for the South Africans.

 ?? Picture: Lee Warren/Gallo Images ?? Neil Brand will hope to catch New Zealand unawares in the opening exchanges of the first Test at the Bay Oval in Mt Maunganui.
Picture: Lee Warren/Gallo Images Neil Brand will hope to catch New Zealand unawares in the opening exchanges of the first Test at the Bay Oval in Mt Maunganui.

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