Kiwis won't be getting Christmas presents in SA!

HARARE - Visiting South Africa this time of the year is normally a chaotic but pleasant experience.

Whether you are walking through the spacious shopping malls, gaping at the special bargains the various shops have on offer, or enjoying the sun and sea on one of the many beaches, you can be guaranteed that you will return home feeling relaxed and ready to deal with the countless challenges that the new year will have instore for you.

The New Zealand cricket team however, will be seeing things very differently when they take on the Proteas in three Twenty20 internationals followed by two Test matches and three one-day internationals.
The Black Caps got off to the worst possible start before they even arrived in sunny South Africa when skipper Ross Taylor was surprisingly axed as captain.

This decision came as a huge shock to many, especially after Taylor’s man-of-the-match performance to win the second Test against Sri Lanka.

Subsequently, Taylor withdrew from the tour to South Africa, leaving a big gap in the middle order.

In some way, New Zealand cricket is in a similar position to Zimbabwe cricket, in the sense that it doesn’t  have a huge pool of players to choose from. So when a player of Taylor’s calibre is excluded, it puts the rest of the team under considerable pressure.

The team will instead be led by the experienced but unpredictable Brendon McCullum, who on his day is more than capable of playing match changing innings against any opposition, but lacks the consistency to match his potential.

The tour gets underway with three T20 internationals, which is arguably the Black Caps’ strongest form of the game. However, looking at their squad, there are a number of unknown players who will have to make the huge adjustment from playing domestic cricket on low and slow pitches, to playing a tough and ruthless international team, brimming with confidence on quicker and bouncier pitches.

New Zealand have had limited success when touring South Africa, and sadly for them, there is no reason to suggest that their fortunes should change. A fair amount of interest will probably be shown when the teams meet in the shorter forms of the game, but if South Africa bring their A game to the Test arena, the general feeling is that New Zealand will probably not last the full five days.

Should this be the case, there will undoubtedly be repercussions when the Black Caps return home.

Speculation is that the newly-appointed coach and Brendon McCullum are personal friends and that he may have had a part in the change of captaincy, which means that New Zealand will be under the pump from the outset.

South Africa have also decided on a change of personnel in the coaching and captaincy department with assistant coach Russell Domingo taking over as T20 coach, and Francois du Plessis (Faf) taking over as captain.

Faf has had a phenomenal season, and it has been a pleasure watching him growing in stature.

His ability to change from the free-flowing and dashing stroke maker in the shorter version of the game to a rock solid and technically sound Test batsman, has rewarded the faith the selectors had in him.

In fact, a few Australian journalists were quoted as saying that Faf’s approach to the game was very similar to that of the great all-rounder Clive Rice, who would more than likely have been one of the world’s best Test all-rounders, had South not been isolated from international sport.

With accolades such as these, Du Plessis has every right to be confident about his game and leadership.

So does this mean that AB de Villiers will now be focusing on his batting?

Or is it simply because he and the rest of the coaching team feel that he is in need of a brake?

This does seem a little puzzling though, especially after coming off the back of a blistering century in the third Test against Australia in Perth.

There must be some thought of relinquishing the gloves, because young Quentin de Cock, a young, but wonderfully talented wicketkeeper-batsman has also been included and will more than likely bat in the top three.

Richard Levi makes his return to the team after an impressive run of form in the recently concluded 50-over domestic tournament, and probably still has a psychological hold over the Black Caps after his whirlwind century earlier this year.

Both teams will be fielding a combination of youth and experience in the T20 matches, but one can’t help but feel that when the Test series gets underway in early January, it will be business as normal for the seemingly unstoppable Protea machine. - Dean du Plessis

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