History beckons new Zealand at Hamilton


New Zealand are strong favourites to create history at Seddon Park.

The last time South Africa played a men's Test in Hamilton, in March 2017, they were saved by rain that prevented any play on the fifth day. This time - the second Test starts on Tuesday - the New Zealanders look likely to get the job done inside four days.

In 2017 the visitors would have resumed on 80/5 needing another 95 runs to make New Zealand bat again. The chances were thus high of New Zealand wiping out the series lead South Africa had taken at the Basin Reserve, which followed a draw in Dunedin. With that the South Africans were able to celebrate their 12th victory in 18 away Test series, only one of them lost - the November 2015 rubber in India, which was tainted by poor pitches.

Almost seven years on much has changed. South Africa have won just one and lost six of their eight series on the road. The New Zealanders have quietly added to their excellence, which they confirmed by beating India in the inaugural World Test Championship final in Southampton in June 2021.

It's tempting to look at cricket in New Zealand and wonder why the game in South Africa isn't on as sound a footing. Isn't the cricket industry in the countries about the same size? Doesn't the game there and here share, broadly, the same culture? Yes, in both cases. But that's a limited, simplistic analysis.

More relevant is the fact that as a developed country - as opposed to a developing country like South Africa - New Zealand doesn't struggle for skills and expertise in all areas. It also doesn't have to overcome the levels of corruption that can seem to be hardwired into South African society. Nor is it burdened with layers of distrust along racial, cultural and religious lines to the same degree as in South Africa.

New Zealand's wider economy is significantly more stable and orientated towards growth than South Africa's, and that the currency is far stronger. That's why NZC doesn't need a glitzy T20 extravaganza to ward off financial ruin. And why CSA do, and must make the SA20 their top priority. Hence the sorry state of the visitors' Test squad, what with their best players locked into T20 mode until Saturday.

It isn't fair on anyone involved, not least league commissioner Graeme Smith and the rest of the team who run the SA20, which is after all a rescue mission. But since when has capitalism - and cricket at this level is all about capitalism - been fair? The customers are being given what a lot of them want, and to blazes with the few who don't want it. Until what they want pays the bills like T20 does, they are going to have to like it or lump it.

Still, it's difficult not to feel sorry for Neil Brand and his team as they bid to avoid becoming the first South Africa team to lose a Test series to New Zealand. The original of the 17 rubbers was played in February and March 1932, when South Africa won the first match by an innings and both of the other two by eight wickets. Of the 48 Tests the teams have contested, South Africa have lost only six, the most recent of them by 281 runs in Mount Maunganui last week.

Another in Hamilton and New Zealand will banish the ghosts of March 2017, along with almost 92 years of failure. Aside from Test newbies Afghanistan and Ireland, who New Zealand have yet to play against, South Africa are the only side they haven't beaten in a series. History is in the air.

When: February 13 to 17, 2024; 11am Local Time (Midnight SAST, 3.30am IST)

Where: Seddon Park, Hamilton

What to expect: Decent weather for the duration of the match. Totals of 500 have been reached at this ground five times in its 27 Tests - New Zealand put up 715/6 against Bangladesh in February 2019. Teams have been bowled out for fewer than 100 four times, but not since December 2002. Kane Williamson's five centuries here - 53 have been scored in all - is as many as he has made at the Basin Reserve, where he has had seven fewer innings. Only three of the 28 five-wicket hauls at Seddon Park have been taken by spinners.

Team news:

New Zealand:

Towering fast bowler Will O'Rourke, who has played three ODIs, looks set for a debut. Mitchell Santner could make way for him. Will Young has been named to replace Daryll Mitchell, who has a foot injury.

Possible XI: Tom Latham, Devon Conway, Kane Williamson, Rachin Ravindra, Will Young, Tom Blundell, Glenn Phillips, Kyle Jamieson, Matt Henry, Will O'Rourke, Tim Southee (capt)

South Africa:

Shukri Conrad suggested strongly after the first Test that the XI would change. Exactly how isn't easy to see. Perhaps Dane Piedt for Ruan de Swardt?

Possible XI: Edward Moore, Neil Brand (capt), Raynard van Tonder, Zubayr Hamza, David Bedingham, Keegan Petersen, Clyde Fortuin, Dane Piedt, Duanne Olivier, Tshepo Moreki, Dane Paterson

What they said:

"In New Zealand it can look like it's going to do a lot, and then we've seen the side batting first get into a pretty good position. It's about playing what's in front of you." - Tim Southee offers advice about what to do at the toss.