CHRISTCHURCH – New Zealand and South Africa are focusing on the notoriously green Hagley Oval wicket as they draw up battle plans for the first Test starting in Christchurch on Thursday.
New Zealand are desperate for a first series win against South Africa and to prove they can still muster a winning combination despite missing 273 Tests-worth of experience with the absence of Ross Taylor (retired), Kane Williamson (injured) and Trent Boult (paternity leave).
South Africa are thirsting to lift both their world ranking (fifth) and to boost their World Test Championship standing, with the chance to move up to second if they sweep the two-Test series.
But the main talking point for New Zealand captains Tom Latham and South African counterpart Dean Elgar on Wednesday was the bowl-first reputation of the lush Hagley Oval surface.
It will be South Africa's first outing on the Christchurch strip where both Tests of the series will be played.
New Zealand boast an enviable record of seven wins, one defeat and one draw on a wicket that always seems to suit their swing and seam attack.
"It presents opportunities to score runs but also presents opportunities for bowlers with a bit of pace and bounce and a bit of assistance off the wicket," New Zealand skipper Latham said.
"We've played some really good cricket at home now for a long period and I know if we can adapt to the wicket, adapt to the surface, then hopefully we'll give ourselves a good chance of being on the right side."
New Zealand go into the Test on a high after thrashing Bangladesh by an innings and eight wickets on the same ground a month ago and Latham said they have been focusing on their poor record against South Africa who they have beaten just four times in 45 Tests.
South Africa's preparations for coping with the Hagley Oval conditions have been meticulous, right down to pinpointing the best time to score runs.
"Sometimes you can get carried away when you see green grass. You might not execute your skill or line and length because you think the grass is going to do everything," Elgar said.
"From a batting point of view we have to be very strong in our defence and strong in our leave and we've got to set up our batting innings in order for us to score runs later on in the afternoon.
"From what I've experienced in the nets we've had it's been a pretty good competition between bat and ball."
Like New Zealand, South Africa are without key players with Keegan Petersen (COVID-19) and Anrich Nortje (injured) absent.
Elgar indicated Sarel Erwee is in line to replace Petersen, batting at number three for his Test debut, while they have six quick bowlers in their squad to ensure adequate cover for Nortje, with Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Marco Jansen likely to lead the attack.