South Africa start bid to reach No. 1

March 6, 2012 | Cricket, General

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Test cricket desperately needs a team to prove itself worthy of the much-hyped No. 1 ranking. A little competition at the top makes things interesting, but two top-ranked Test sides being whitewashed within seven months is downright farcical. Any sport requires a benchmark of excellence. South Africa are the team most capable of having an extended run at the top of the rankings: they, unlike England and India, perform well in all conditions, and had it not been for a strange inability to win a home series for three years they would already have been No. 1. They can get there by beating New Zealand 3-0 and should settle for nothing less.

A year ago, when New Zealand were in quite dismal form, a whitewash would have been the expected result. A month ago, with New Zealand riding on their upset of Australia in Hobart and thumping of Zimbabwe in Napier, one might have predicted a more even fight. Now, with South Africa having halted New Zealand’s revival by wiping the floor with them in the one-dayers, but having suffered a shock loss against Sri Lanka in Durban last December, bold predictions would not be as forthcoming.

New Zealand face a dilemma when it comes to what types of tracks to prepare for the series. The success in Hobart came in seaming conditions, and South Africa have lost on fast bowlers’ pitches, in Johannesburg and Durban, recently. But it would take a brave team to prepare a surface that would aid Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander. The Dunedin pitch has not a speck of green on it, with dried grass covering the pitch, which may make it get slower as the game goes on.

The idea might be to bring Daniel Vettori into the game, but Vettori has a poor record against South Africa, who play spin well. Batting tracks may not favour New Zealand either; their batsmen do not have the experience of their opponents in playing long innings and building mammoth totals.

Cricinfo

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