Dunedin: South Africa will gamble on the fitness of speedster Morne Morkel when the first Test against New Zealand begins in Dunedin on Wednesday.
With cool, blustery conditions expected and a green hue to the wicket, New Zealand would not confirm their likely line-up Tuesday, leaving open the option of playing a second spin bowler.
But South African captain Faf du Plessis felt that one spinner and Morkel slotting in as the third seamer behind Vern Philander and Kagiso Rabada would give his side the best balance.
The 1.96 metre (6ft 5in) Morkel, with 242 Test wickets, has been out of international action since early last year with a back injury which he aggravated again during a tour match in Australia last November.
Du Plessis said the risk of putting the tall paceman back into action against New Zealand was worth it.
“If he’s not going to be able to play now then we’ll never know if we don’t take that chance,” du Plessis said Tuesday.
“Every time he’s bowled in the nets it felt to me like he was bowling at his best.
“So it’s an opportunity we have to take as a team and see where Morne is with his back. All the reports say it’s 100 per cent fine.”
The odds heavily favour South Africa going into the match, having beaten New Zealand in 12 of 21 Tests in the past 20 years with eight draws and a solitary New Zealand win in 2004.
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson said his side had already put behind them the 3-2 one-day international series loss to the Proteas but conceded the tourists were also favourites to take the Tests as well.
“I suppose so. They’re always very, very competitive in all formats, and all conditions as well,” he said.
New Zealand have two spinners in their squad, Jeetan Patel and Mitchell Santner, and for the past 22 Tests played in New Zealand the captain winning the toss has bowled first in pace-friendly conditions.
However, Williamson was giving nothing away about the balance of his side nor what he will do if he wins the toss. “It’s a similar looking surface to what we’re used to. A bit of green grass and might offer a little bit to the seamers initially,” Williamson said.
“We have 13 players here in the squad and there’ll be two unlucky guys that miss out, but we’re considering all options. We want to have another look tomorrow at the surface. It can change quickly.”
The likely selection debates for New Zealand would seem to be between Patel and Santner and for the all-rounders’ role between Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme.