Zealand's Glenn Phillips [Source: Reuters]
New Zealand have never beaten South Africa in a test series in nearly a century of trying and will rarely have a better chance to break that drought than in two matches against a severely depleted side starting on Sunday.
The 14-man Proteas squad is unrecognisable from the team that split a series with India over the New Year as Cricket South Africa prioritises the Twenty20 competition (SA20) on which its financial survival depends.
Captain Neil Brand will play his first international cricket match at Mount Maunganui’s Bay Oval on Sunday and seven other members of his squad are untested at this level in the longest form of the game.
After a weakened West Indies stunned World Test Champions Australia and England similarly upset India in Hyderabad last week, however, New Zealand will not be taking the South Africans lightly.
While the weather forecast for the first test is good, the wicket was under covers on Saturday because of heavy rain and Southee said he would not reveal his team until the toss.
He said the entire squad had trained well over the last few days, easing concerns over the health of former captain Kane Williamson, batsman Tom Blundell and quick Kyle Jamieson.
Glenn Phillips looks likely to bat in the middle order with Rachin Ravindra, who was recently named ICC Emerging Player of the Year for his World Cup heroics, with both offering extra spin-bowling options.
Brand, who will also wait until the toss to unveil his team, said he was not expecting any complacency from the home side even if Southee alone has played 45 more tests than the entire South Africa squad combined.
Brand said he hoped his unheralded squad would surprise a few people over the two tests, the second of which takes place in Hamilton from Feb. 13.