12-Feb-2024 • 16 hrs ago
With the knowledge that they could become the first South African team to lose a Test series to New Zealand, Neil Brand’s men are “desperate to put in a good performance,” in the Hamilton Test, and believe they are better than what their 281-run defeat in Mount Maunganui suggests.
“I don’t think we are miles off. I said to the boys afterwards I think we were good for about 65% of the game,” Brand, South Africa’s stand-in captain said. “Obviously we have to learn pretty quickly at this level and it’s something we are desperate to do and to put it right.”
Brand identified South Africa’s batting as the biggest concern after they were dismissed for 162 and 247 and only one of their batters, David Bedingham, crossed 50. For Brand, the top three is a particular focal point. “We have to do the right things for longer and myself, personally, I have to find a way to get through the new ball which has been tricky in these conditions,” he said. “The wickets look like they are getting better for batting the longer you can hang out there. So, it’s just about keeping our confidence high and making sure we keep believing in ourselves.”
Between them, Brand, his opening partner Eddie Moore and one-drop Raynard van Tonder, scored 61 runs in six innings in the first Test. They were all making their debuts. Moore was bounced out in the first innings and drove a ball aerially in the second, Brand’s shot selection was uncertain against the moving ball and van Tonder was twice dismissed by Kyle Jamieson, who shaped the ball back in and tested his technique on the front foot. None of those things, especially among players who are new to playing at this level, have quick fixes but it wasn’t all bad. Moore spent 50 minutes in the middle in the first innings, van Tonder was at the crease for an hour and 23 minutes in the second innings and they did some work in protecting the middle-order, who all got starts.
Zubayr Hamza, Keegan Petersen and Bedingham all got to double-figures in both innings and with Test experience, are expected to form the backbone of South Africa’s efforts. Bedingham, in particular, comes into the series with a lot of expectation around him after he made his debut against India. “We want him to push on and get a big score for us,” Brand said.
On the other side of that coin, South Africa’s attack are searching for ways to be more incisive after conceding 511 runs in the first innings and 179 in 43 overs in the second. Both times, they had New Zealand in early trouble on 39 for 2 and 10 for 1, but could not capitalise. It didn’t help that they dropped chances off Kane Williamson and Rachin Ravindra, who went on to score 118 and 240 respectively, but that aside, Brand still hopes they can find more ways to take wickets with the older ball. “We were really good with the new ball in both innings. I understand this wicket might be a bit different but we just want a bit more options from over 20 through to the [second] new ball so we can dismantle that middle order. We’ve been building pressure but we haven’t found ways to strike with the old ball.”
For variety in attack, South Africa could look to bring in allrounder Mihlali Mpongwana, who may add some pace, or one of their spinners – Dane Piedt or Shaun von Berg. While many will wonder why, with the SA20 completed at the weekend, South Africa can’t call on some of their first-choice players to bolster the stocks, the answer lies in travel time and jet lag. New Zealand is 11 hours ahead of South Africa and the shortest flight route is a little over 19 hours. To counter fatigue and jet lag, players are required to be in the country for at least a week before playing which makes it impossible for anyone else to be added to the touring group.
Instead, South Africa have to make do with what they have and most of these players have one more opportunity to show what they can offer at international level. Despite how difficult it has been, Brand hopes some of them will take it.
“The Test match was really tough. On day three I was pretty tired. Dane Piedt said Hashim Amla told him that every day feels like a (whole) Test match when you are playing Test cricket,” he said. “But I have enjoyed every moment of it. I have learnt a lot about myself as a person and I really love being in this environment so hopefully I can put in a few good performances.”
South AfricaNew Zealand vs South AfricaICC World Test ChampionshipSouth Africa in New Zealand
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent for South Africa and women’s cricket