World No 8 versus world No 1. A young touring team paying $9 for victory in the first test against opponents on their beloved home patch at Newlands, rated almost unbackable favourites.
Add to that the list of absentees for New Zealand, namely Ross Taylor and Tim Southee, their best batsman and bowler, and injured spin whiz Daniel Vettori. Worth a lazy bet at $9, anyone?
It begs the question of how a largely written off New Zealand side approach the first of two tests against South Africa, starting tomorrow (9.30pm NZ time).
All-rounder James Franklin, who'll bat No 7 and chime in as a fourth seamer with his left-armers, said they couldn't simply think of staying in the game against South Africa and hoping to take the match to a fifth day and some respectability.
"You've got to go in with a very positive frame of mind and be optimistic no matter what the opposition and the conditions. There's no point going in there on day one and saying let's just hang in and see where we're at in a couple of day's time," Franklin said, ahead of his 31st test.
"You have to go in with a winning mentality and hopefully over days one, two and three you get yourself into a position where you can compete."
Adding some backbone to New Zealand's mission improbable is their previous test performance, which seems months ago. Somehow amid all the Taylor captaincy catastrophe, and a 10-wicket hiding in the first test, the Black Caps beat Sri Lanka by 167 runs in Colombo in November. However, their two stars of that victory - Taylor and Southee - are missing this time, leaving the Colombo support acts Kane Williamson - the new vice-captain - and Trent Boult as key men.
"We're coming off a test win in Sri Lankan conditions and that was really good for the confidence of this side, knowing that we can go away and play against good opposition and win in their own back yard. This will be different again, South Africa are a step above that," Franklin said.
After being shaded by a youthful South African Invitation XI in a three-day warmup game in Paarl, the tourists were given the day off ahead of tonight's (NZ time) final training at Newlands.
Last time they played a test in Cape Town, in 2006, New Zealand discovered a flat pitch and used it well, Franklin scoring a century and Stephen Fleming topping 200. Franklin observed that was some time ago, but "you never know, lightning might strike twice".
It also marks Brendon McCullum's first test as captain and Franklin said the skipper's early impact had been positive.
"He's a confident leader, he's an optimistic leader and he's quite aggressive with his field placings and brand of cricket. We all know the way he plays himself, he likes to impose himself on the opposition.
"He's very detailed with the bowlers on different field placements. I don't think with Brendon you're always going to get run of the mill field placements, he's more than happy to try things out just to try and break it up."
With the batting lineup sorted, the only toss-up in team selection was between pacemen Chris Martin and Neil Wagner, with the veteran expected to get the nod in Southee's absence.
Franklin knows he needs to lift in both departments if New Zealand are to be a chance. He said he'd reverted to his long run-up and worked intensively with bowling coach Shane Bond, opening up his front arm to try and regain some bite with the ball. He was dropped after scoring three and two in the first test in Galle in November.
Meanwhile, South Africa are set to field an imposing lineup although seamer Vernon Philander remains in serious doubt with a hamstring injury. Rory Kleinveldt is a ready-made replacement if Philander is ruled out.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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