Journey into the unknown for Black Caps and Proteas in first Test

Dane Paterson, with two Tests to his name ,is one of seven players in the Proteas squad touring New Zealand with experience of the five-day format. File image.
Dane Paterson, with two Tests to his name ,is one of seven players in the Proteas squad touring New Zealand with experience of the five-day format. File image.
Image: Cricket South Africa

New Zealand Cricket struck a poignant tone for the Black Caps' Test series against an understrength Proteas outfit, commemorating one of that country’s worst rail disasters in a trophy for which the two teams will play. 

The Tangiwai Shield commemorates a train accident 70 years ago in which the fiancée of Bob Blair, a 21-year-old fast bowler playing for New Zealand in South Africa at the time, was killed. 

Blair was playing in the second Test at Ellis Park when he was woken in the early hours of the second morning of the Test to be told the news. He stayed at the hotel grieving as his teammates resumed the match, with the flags of both countries lowered to half-mast.

Blair, who now lives in England, unexpectedly appeared after New Zealand lost its ninth wicket, stunning spectators into silence and leaving players from both sides in tears.

Tangiwai can be translated into “weeping waters”, which is particularly poignant given the nature of the tragedy.

That New Zealand should provide such status to a series many in South Africa are dismissing speaks to the importance they attach to the two Tests. The Black Caps have never beaten South Africa in a Test series and believe this series represents their best opportunity to do so. 

However, they are wary of what the Proteas, whose squad contains eight uncapped players including skipper Neil Brand, might produce, with last Sunday’s shock win by a West Indies team that also featured a host of uncapped players against Australia, putting them on notice.

“When you step out into the middle, there's [no such thing] as an underdog. It's what happens in the moment — the ball is bowled and you're supposed to play it, all that external noise floats away,” said New Zealand’s young star Rachin Ravindra. 

The 24-year-old, who shot to prominence at last year’s World Cup, will bat at No 4 in the first Test, starting at the Bay Oval in Mt Maunganui on Sunday (midnight South African time), reviving a Test career halted after three matches, the last of which was at the same venue two years ago against Bangladesh. 

New Zealand suffered a shock defeat in that encounter, which will provide added focus for the hosts against the lesser-known Proteas. 

While Dane Paterson said a bit of mystery might play to the South Africans’ advantage, the lack of Test experience also counts against the tourists.

“New Zealand will be doing a lot of data searching because they don’t know who the players are. It’s an unknown to them, but it’s the same for us, because we haven’t played New Zealand,” said Paterson, who with two caps is one of seven players in the Proteas squad with Test experience.


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