South African skipper Graeme Smith admits the New Zealand captaincy drama hasn't helped the perception that the tourists will be easybeats in the two-test cricket series.
But he believes new skipper Brendon McCullum can make a name for himself in his first test in charge, starting at 9.30pm tonight at Newlands, and that the team have nothing to lose.
Smith, whose team are ranked No 1 in the world, said he'd read reports on Ross Taylor's sacking and the events that led up to it, which caused him to take a break from cricket and sit out the tour.
"It's obviously not ideal. Ross is a key player for them and a big man around the squad. If the squad is happy at the moment on the tour, they really have an opportunity to fight and they've got nothing to lose in this test series. If it goes well then they get a good player like Ross back and into the environment and move forward," Smith said at the pre-test press conference.
"Knowing Brendon he's a really gutsy character and he will want to compete and get the most out of this test series. If they do do well, it will be a big tick in his box."
Ticket sales have been strong for the first test on days one and two, but locals are seemingly wary of buying tickets any further on in the match, until they see if New Zealand put up a contest.
Asked about the common feeling that the tourists will be unable to compete without Taylor and injured bowlers Tim Southee and Daniel Vettori, Smith said: "The [captaincy] drama probably hasn't helped that perception. Certainly in our mind when we did our work yesterday on the video there's a lot of respect and understanding of how we want to go about it.
"We recently played New Zealand in New Zealand so we understand it's not as easy as everybody says. If we can win and win well, that's what we're here to do. But there's an immense respect for the game of cricket in our team and a humble way we go about things so we're not looking at the series like that."
South Africa are set to field a full strength team after Smith confirmed seamer Vernon Philander had passed a fitness test on his injured hamstring today. The standout South African bowler of their 1-0 series win in New Zealand in March is expected to take his place alongside Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Jacques Kallis in an imposing pace attack.
"As far as I know he's come through his fitness test well. He's provisionally ready for tomorrow. Unless he stiffens up today he's fit to play."
Smith felt the pitch would be a typical Newlands surface, with seam movement on the first two days before becoming an excellent batting strip. And the team were fired up about returning to their spiritual home, where they've won six and drawn three tests since their last defeat here in 2006.
"Everything seems to fit well here. The preparation is good and the support we get here is terrific. It's great to see the fans are turning out again, especially tomorrow and day two, to see people buying tickets and wanting to be part of this test match is important to us. We just enjoy coming here and when you've got a good record at a ground you immediately arrive with a certain confidence."
Adding to the occasion is the fact two key men are on the verge of milestones; Kallis 13,000 test runs and Steyn 300 wickets.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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