The second New Zealand v South Africa Test starts in a few hours. I’ll actually miss the first part of it, I’m going out of town for a couple of days, but I’ll be sorry to do so. South Africa were frustrated by the rain at Dunedin, but they did themselves no favours and ought to be kicking themselves about that. Ideally for South Africa that would translate into coming out all guns blazing in the next Test, but I’m not sure it will. They looked very flat before the close on day four and with the added disappointment of the rain their heads may go down. This is, bear in mind, almost the exact same team who responded to a disappointing draw against England by losing by an innings, then responded to another one by winning by an innings. It’s pretty hard to say how they’ll respond here, but I’m leaning towards a positive reaction.
New Zealand should be positive too. Taylor and McCullum batted reasonably well in a high pressure situation on the fourth day, although very little of that pressure was being actively applied by the South African bowlers. Still, they got to stumps in a good enough position that some were suggesting that the rain may have robbed them of a chance of victory. I don’t think that’s true, Taylor and McCullum would have had to get at least another 100 or so of the remaining runs, but they did at least go out of the match on a positive note and can have cause for optimism. Tim Southee has also been dropped which looks like an excellent decision. He has not really performed since very early in his career and would be a fairly unremarkable county bowler in England. New Zealand had trouble turning pressure into wickets in the second innings of the first Test and a large partnership ensued. If they can avoid that in the second Test, they do look like they have the ability to bowl South Africa out cheaply.
I’ve also seen a lot of rubbish about who has the ‘momentum’. It doesn’t matter. Look at the last two Ashes series: in 2009 Australia had the momentum after Headingley and proceeded to lose badly at the Oval. In 2010/11 it was even worse, England had the momentum after Adelaide, but then lost at Perth giving Australia the momentum. Australia were then promptly bowled out for 98 at the MCG and went on to lose by an innings. Sometimes teams will string wins together (usually when they are simply better than the opposition) and sometimes series will go back and forth. Forget ‘momentum’.
Ultimately, I think Steyn, Philander and Morkel will be keen to atone for their performance in the final session at Dunedin and will go after the batsmen much like they did in their first spell of that innings. New Zealand batted reasonably well in Dunedin, but I expect South Africa to step up a bit more and make life very difficult for them. The Kiwis are an improving side and should do enough to keep the match interesting, but I think South Africa will take a 1-0 lead.