For only the second time under the Dean Elgar captaincy, South African cricket fans could see a Proteas team take to the field without spinner Keshav Maharaj when the first Test against New Zealand starts at midnight (SA time) on Wednesday at the Hagley Oval. in Christchurch.
The only previous time the Proteas started a game with an all-speed attack under Elgar was against Pakistan at the Wanderers in January 2019, but the gritty lead batsman just stood in for Faf du Plessis on that occasion.
But since Elgar was appointed as the official Test captain, he has always had Maharaj on his team, unsurprisingly in the West Indies, as well as in all three Tests against India earlier this summer on sailor-friendly pitches.
The skipper has previously spoken of his reluctance to enter a Test without a spinner, but admitted on the eve of the New Zealand game that this was a possibility.
“Whether or not we play the spinner is clearly the hot topic for us, whether there is room for it is one of the bigger decisions we have to make,” Elgar said.
“The conditions aren’t necessarily right for a spinner, and history shows that a spinner isn’t that big of a deal at Hagley Oval.”
Indeed, New Zealand have confirmed that they will enter the game with four frontline pacemen and will also likely play two all-rounders who can come together in Colin de Grandhomme and Daryl Mitchell.
Aside from arranging the starting XI with coach Mark Boucher and the other selectors, Elgar also did paperwork on Wednesday to ensure everyone on the team is on the same page in terms of their mindset going into the test.
“We are in a good mental space, although I might have answered differently if the quarantine had lasted longer. I’ll hit the ground running with the guys and make sure we’re all aligned with the goal,” Elgar said.
“The focus now has to be more on the team. I’ve talked to most of the team and I’ll do the rest today, but every guy will be in a different mental space and now we have to align everyone.
“We knew what to do in terms of quarantine, but the last three days have been amazing, it’s like the players have revived and we all appreciate the outside world more,” said Elgar.
Anyway, in the Test series, the Black Caps will either improve their terrible record against South Africa or continue their stellar run at the Hagley Oval.
New Zealand have not won any of the 16 series they have played against South Africa, who have won 13 of them. It is the worst record among the ‘top eight’ countries in cricket.
But the Black Caps have only lost one of their 10 Tests at the Hagley Oval – against Australia in 2016. They have been in rampant form in their last four games there – beating Bangladesh and Pakistan by an innings, India by seven wickets and Sri Lanka with 423 runs.