In their first Test for more than 14 years without captain Kane Williamson (injured), strike bowler Trent Boult (paternity leave) and their all-time leading run-scorer Ross Taylor (retired), New Zealand looked arguably even stronger when demolishing a wealth of records on the way to an innings and 276 run defeat of South Africa.
Whilst a draw in this second Test in Christchurch will net them their first ever series victory over the Proteas, New Zealand desperately need another win to have any chance of retaining their World Test Championship crown.
Their WTC success from 2019-21 was built upon the foundations of 16 consecutive home Tests without defeat since South Africa’s last visit in March 2017, and after a shock loss to Bangladesh in Tauranga last month, New Zealand’s invincibility at home was understandably under question.
The manner in which they returned to their best at Hagley Oval – where they have now won seven of their last eight Tests (D1) including innings victories in their most recent three – was convincing from start to finish.
In fact, so impressive was Matt Henry’s all-round performance – he earned the Player of the Match award in a second consecutive appearance after becoming the first man in history to record a seven-wicket haul and a half-century batting at 11 – head coach Gary Stead had no hesitation in leaving Boult out for a second consecutive Test.
As far as the batting order is concerned, this Test could be crucial in determining who has to make way for Kane Williamson’s eventual return.
Daryl Mitchell, who has reached 20 in just one of his last five innings since his first century, desperately needs runs.
Nothing has gone right for South Africa who, for the fifth time in six tours since previously visiting New Zealand, have conceded a 1-0 deficit in an away Test series.
Only at Nottingham in 2017 (340 run win) were they able to prevent their hosts from converting that to a 2-0 lead, highlighting the breadth of their Test struggles away from home.
Calling the flip of the coin correctly would be an immensely helpful start – New Zealand have not lost a home Test since December 2009 after winning the toss (W13, D8) – particularly when South Africa’s batters looked terribly uncomfortable against the new ball on a fresh pitch.
Their two debutantes from last week, opening batter Sarel Erwee (10 & 0) and bowler Glenton Stuurman (1/124) could both be scratched for alternative options, particularly with Aiden Markram having spent his first 53 Tests as an opener and uncapped Ryan Rickelton averaging 118.25 in First-Class cricket this season (including three centuries in his last five innings).
Star spinner Keshav Maharaj could inject some experience and a desperately needed change of rhythm into an otherwise flat all-pace attack, though it would be a bold move to select him at a venue where spin bowlers average 57.12 in Test cricket.
NEW ZEALAND V SOUTH AFRICA
Players to watch
The most successful sides are those whose captains lift in the toughest of circumstances, and South Africa need Dean Elgar to up his game on tour. Elgar has recorded six single digit scores and just two half-centuries from his last 14 Test innings in an opposition country (average 21.46). In addition to being dismissed twice by Henry last week, Elgar is also going to have to counter the threat of Tim Southee, who now averages nearly five wickets per Test at Hagley Oval (20.22 runs per wicket).
– A century has been recorded by a New Zealand batter in five of their last six home Test innings.
– South Africa’s last five opening partnerships in away Tests have all been worth fewer than five runs.
– Matt Henry has returned scores of 58*, 21 and 66 from his three Test innings at his home ground of Hagley Oval.
– Henry Nicholls has posted three centuries, a half-century and nine scores of fewer than 20 runs from his 14 Test innings at Hagley Oval.
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