South Africa and New Zealand struggle to find relevance of the three One-Day International (ODI) fixtures in the off season. However, the series gives them a chance to test their mettle against quality opponents (in each other) before their away examinations. Abhishek Mukherjee previews the first ODI in Centurion.

When New Zealand will take on South Africa in Centurion on Wednesday, there will be a spectacle to look forward to as in most limited-overs fixtures arranged these days, but a genuine spectator interest goes deeper than the ephemeral and visceral thrill. Spectators in South Africa will be a bit awkward with the arrangement of a limited-overs tour in the off season, and with no tangible relevance of it beyond batting and bowling practice of teams without a few of their big stars, they will be unsure of what to look forward to. But, if there is beer in hand, and a day out to savour, fun can be had, better if there are stumps cart-wheeling and fours and sixes galore. Black Caps clearly missing Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor

Brendon McCullum, the most recognisable face in New Zealand’s cricket, and the leader of their pace attack, Tim Southee, are provided a respite from a punishing schedule stretching from the rigorous lead-up to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 and the intense tour of England after it. South Africa’s all-rounder JP Duminy will be absent from the upcoming three One-Day Internationals (ODIs) because he will be with his wife during the birth of their first child. Faf du Plessis, the regular Twenty20 captain and a significant member of South Africa’s middle-order in all formats, will also miss the games, due to a knee trouble. Farhan Behardein takes his place in the batting line-up. New Zealand’s ability to learn quickly from their mistakes will make them a stronger team

Both teams have constructed middling performances since the World Cup that had these teams sizzling all the way up to the semi-final. After a break from their epic battle in Wellington, New Zealand embarked upon a full tour of England, and participated in a run-glut that had England solidifying their new era of ‘New England’ to lose a closely-fought series 3-2. Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, the leaders of their middle-order, led the run-charts in the series, which was good news for the country as these batsmen weren’t at their best in the World Cup, averaging in the early 30s in that event. Quinton de Kock will make strong comeback after his unsurprising axe for series against New Zealand

Zimbabwe had grabbed the chance to show up against big teams with a tour of India preceding New Zealand’s arrival, and defeated them in the first ODI in Harare. But as was expected, the visitors pulled up their socks to register comfortable wins in the other games. Williamson, their stand-in captain, led the batting half of their winning performances with two scores in the 90s.

Then, facing a step up in the quality of their opponents immediately after, in South Africa, they shared the Twenty20 International (T20I) series 1-1, after losing the first owing to the failure of the lower half of the batting order to capitalize on the base provided by the top order. That was all erased with a match-winning knock of 60 in the next and final T20I in Centurion, where the first ODI of the tour will also be played. Mike Hesson, their coach, is using these opportunities to make his team learn from the ‘away’ experiences.

South Africa are served behind the wickets by Morne van Wyk, as the regular choice Quinton de Kock has been sent to India for the ‘A’ team tour to get his batting form back. Van Wyk, now 36, will look to cement his place permanently. De Kock had a mediocre tour of Bangladesh, scoring 7, 2, and 35 in the three-match ODI series that had the visiting side losing 2-1. The mediocre ODI form notwithstanding, South Africa will be better off in more familiar bouncing conditions at home.

The three ODIs may serve New Zealand well before their hot tour of Australia that follows, but it will not be of much help to South Africa, who await their 70-day tour of India, in the months of October, November and December. A lot of leather chasing will be expected, but fast bowlers and spinners, at least in the drier conditions in Centurion, will also be part of the show.


South Africa: AB de Villiers (c), Hashim Amla, Morne van Wyk (wk), Rilee Rossouw, David Miller, Farhaan Behardien, David Wiese, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Kagiso Rabada, Aaron Phangiso, Kyle Abbott, Faf du Plessis

New Zealand: Kane Williamson(c), Martin Guptill, Tom Latham, Colin Munro, Grant Elliott, James Neesham, Luke Ronchi(wk), Nathan McCullum, Adam Milne, Ish Sodhi, Mitchell McClenaghan, Matt Henry, Ben Wheeler, Doug Bracewell, George Worker

Time: 12:30 local | 10:30 GMT | 16:00 IST

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @bhejafryyy)