“Philander has come through his fitness test well,” said captain Graeme Smith yesterday. “Unless he stiffens up later today or tonight he’s fit to play.”
Philander has not bowled in a match since breaking down with a hamstring strain in a franchise match 12 days ago. Smith said South Africa were eager to get into action in their first home match since taking the No 1 ranking during an unbeaten run of nine Test matches on foreign soil.
“The team has taken big steps forward in 2012,” said Smith. “We’ve travelled a lot in the last year. It was hostile, it was tough. Hopefully now we can play the same style of cricket in South Africa with home support.”
Smith said he was happy with South Africa’s preparation. “The way the guys have trained this week has been intense. We’ve had five days together and the work rate has been good. It’s great to sit in team meetings and listen to how the guys want to take the team forward and not rest on our laurels.”
Asked about the controversy which led to former captain Ross Taylor withdrawing from the New Zealand squad, Smith said: “It’s obviously not ideal. Ross is a key player for them and a big man around the squad.” He said being on a tour gave the New Zealanders time to bind together as a team. “They have an opportunity to fight and they have nothing to lose in this Test series.”
Smith said the South Africans had respect for New Zealand, who they defeated 1-0 in a three-match away series during their successful run in 2012. “They’ve come here knowing (captain) Brendon (McCullum) is a really gutsy player and they will want to compete and get the most out of this Test series. If they do well it will be a big tick in his box.”