Wellington: Three Twenty20 matches ahead of a 50-over series and three Tests may seem somewhat trivial considering South Africa's ultimate aim is to become the top-ranked Test team after this tour, but there is plenty to be gained across these three matches. As the series gets underway in Wellington on Friday night, both teams are geared up for a scrap and the right to gain the upper hand before the cricket gets a lot tougher.
South Africa are coming off a gap in cricketing action having beaten Sri Lanka at home last month, and the comments from their camp have been restrained. The focus, clearly, is on playing good cricket and keeping their best for the Test matches. South Africa haven't played Twenty20 cricket since October 2011, and New Zealand can aim to expose any rustiness. Visiting sides take time to adjust to the conditions in the country, but even having beaten Zimbabwe in every format over the course of a one-sided series, New Zealand know fully well how stern a test South Africa pose.
"Our focus is very much on making sure we start this series well. It's a big series for us and the New Zealand public is desperate to get in behind us at the moment and we've had a pretty good start to our summer," said New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum. "We know we're going to be judged on how we go in this series and the opportunity to start the series in the form of the game we're quite strong is a positive for us."
New Zealand - ranked No. 2 in Twenty20s - will be without Jacob Oram for a third straight Twenty20 match. The allrounder missed the two matches against Zimbwabe with a calf niggle. "We're still a little bit cautious on him [Oram] so we'll give him another game out of the 12, then hopefully he'll be back for the next one [in Hamilton on Sunday]," said McCullum after training at the Basin Reserve on Thursday.
With left-arm seamer Michael Bates omitted from the squad of 12, New Zealand are set to field a spin-heavy bowling attack comprising Nathan McCullum, Ronnie Hira, Rob Nicol and Kane Williamson. "If the pitch is a bit greener then what we think we'll have to assess it, but at this stage we're looking to play Ronnie for sure," McCullum said.
An in-form Martin Guptill was rested for the second Twenty20 against Zimbabwe due to a groin niggle, and even a finger injury sustained during practice will not rule the opener out.
AB de Villiers, the South African captain, was undecided on his team's playing XI but it is probable that the visitors will go in with an unchanged side from the one that beat Canterbury in the Twent20 warm-up game.
Head to head, South Africa and New Zealand have played each other five times in the format, with the former winning four times.
New Zealand: 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Brendon McCullum (capt/wk), 3 Rob Nicol, 4 Colin de Grandhomme, 5 James Franklin, 6 Kane Williamson, 7 Nathan McCullum, 8 Jacob Oram, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Ronnie Hira, 11 Kyle Mills.
South Africa: 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Richard Levi, 3 Colin Ingram, 4 AB de Villiers (capt/wk), 5 JP Duminy, 6 Justin Ontong, 7 Albie Morkel, 8 Johan Botha / Robin Peterson, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Rusty Theron, 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe.