CENTURION: When it was announced that South Africa and New Zealand would play a one-day international series during the South African winter, the obvious marketing angle was that it would provide a rematch of the dramatic World Cup semi-final between the two teams.
New Zealand won the World Cup showdown with a six off the penultimate ball of the match in Auckland in March.
The series which starts at SuperSport Park on Wednesday is, however, far from a replay. Both sides are missing key players.
New Zealand, in particular, have been hit hard by injuries as well as a player management policy which sees regular captain Brendon McCullum and fast bowler Tim Southee being rested.
Despite injuries ruling out Trent Boult, Corey Anderson, Ross Taylor and Mitchell Santner, the Black Caps showed in sharing a Twenty20 series, which ended on Sunday, that they are capable of mounting a strong challenge.
After losing the first Twenty20 international in Durban by six wickets, New Zealand bounced back by winning the second game by 32 runs in Centurion on Sunday.
Stand-in captain Kane Williamson praised the way the side had turned around their fortunes but warned they would need to improve even further going into a 50-overs series.
On the evidence of the T20 games, New Zealand will need bigger contributions from their middle order batsmen after Williamson and Martin Guptill gave them good starts which were not fully capitalised on.
Williamson is likely to return to his regular number three spot after opening in the short-form games.
South African captain AB de Villiers, meanwhile, bemoaned his side’s inability to adapt to an untypical Centurion pitch, which in winter conditions was dry and slower than usual.
South Africa’s bowling will be strengthened by the return of fast bowlers Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander and leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who both missed the T20 games.
But they will be without fast bowler Morne Morkel, who will join batsman JP Duminy on paternity leave.
New Zealand are currently third on the International Cricket Council one-day rankings list, one point ahead of fourth-placed South Africa.
Cricket South Africa chief executive Haroon Lorgat, meanwhile, said the experiment of playing matches in August had been successful so far, with near-capacity crowds attending the T20 matches.
The groundsmen in Durban and Centurion were able to prepare good batting surfaces.
At high altitude Centurion, the normally bleached winter grass was sprayed with a green dye which could not disguise the dryness of the outfield, making sliding by fielders difficult.