Four red flags for Black Caps at Bay Oval

Publish Date
Sunday, 4 February 2024, 8:51AM

By Kris Shannon

Don’t get Gabba’d
The Black Caps, whose humility over the years has earned widespread praise and Australian eyerolls, likely needed no warning about underestimating this understrength South African side.

But if any complacency had been creeping into their preparations, it was blown away by Shamar Joseph at the Gabba last Sunday afternoon. The young paceman’s spellbinding effort led a callow West Indies to a remarkable win over world No 1 Australia, an upset few had foreseen.

A similarly small contingent will be picking the Proteas to overcome the odds at Bay Oval from today. The TAB has New Zealand paying $1.19 to triumph, compared to their opponents’ $7.60.

But Black Caps skipper Tim Southee issued a reminder that, no matter the personnel, South Africa are still South Africa.

“South Africans are very competitive people, very passionate people about their country,” he said. “I’m sure this group of players they’ve brought are more than capable and excited about playing test match cricket for their country.

“They’ll be giving it everything. Just look at South African sport in general; they’re a competitive force.”

An unknown enemy
We’ll learn soon whether South Africa’s sporting prowess extends to their first-class scene. That’s where touring captain Neil Brand has spent his career, set to play his first international, with his 14-man squad owning an average of 3.6 test caps.

The education process has long been underway in the New Zealand camp, “scrapping around” for all the video footage they can find on their new foes.

Southee acknowledged it didn’t amount to a prolonged binge — the tourists’ three-day warm-up match against New Zealand XI at Lincoln helped — but Kane Williamson revealed the Black Caps could also call on a little inside information.

“There are a number of players in the South African side that members of our team are quite familiar with playing county cricket,” the batter said. “It is a new-look team so it is important we do our homework.”

Southee and Williamson said the focus would chiefly be on their side’s own cricket, but the iPads might be busy in the home pavilion during the match.

Run ragged
The Black Caps’ cricket does require a bit of focus. They have played only two tests in 10 months, so prejudgments of form carry that caveat, but four batters will be particularly keen to collect some runs.

Since starting the ODI World Cup with a 152-run bang, Devon Conway has been mired in an all-format slump. The opener has failed to reach 50 in his 16 international innings since that explosive knock in October, while he averaged 11.8 in those two tests against Bangladesh.

Opening partner Tom Latham wasn’t any better on that tour, compiling 51 runs in four innings, while wicketkeeper Tom Blundell was much worse while scoring 14.

Rachin Ravindra, meanwhile, watched from the sidelines as the Black Caps battled back to square the series, but the World Cup star will be batting at No 5 in Mt Maunganui.

It will be his first test action since 2022 and a chance to surpass a high score of 18 not out from six innings in the longest format of the game.

An uphill climb
Of that quartet, Conway and Blundell can call on positive memories from their last trip to the Mount, notching 77 and 138 respectively in the first innings of last February’s first test against England.

Those efforts were rare highlights in the match, however, and the Black Caps’ previous trip to Bay Oval was even more chastening.

After beginning life at the venue with big wins over England and Pakistan in 2019 and 2020, New Zealand slumped to a historic eight-wicket defeat by Bangladesh before being undone by Bazball and the pink ball in a 267-run loss.

That recent record requires amending if the Black Caps wish to remain on course for a maiden test series win over South Africa — and if they want to avoid embarrassment.

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission

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