New Zealand tour a warm-up for England: Kirsten

Johannesburg: South Africa`s upcoming battles with "streetsmart" New Zealand are an important warm-up for their England tour later this year as the Proteas get there early to hone their skills, coach Gary Kirsten said on Friday.

The South Africans left Johannesburg for New Zealand on Friday and will play three Twenty20 internationals, three one-day internationals and three Tests between February 17 and March 27.

"It`s our responsibility to do well around the world in any conditions," Kirsten told a news conference at Johannesburg Airport.

"We`ve set long-term goals and this series is part of that. It`s important for our tour to England because it`s going to be a very competitive series. New Zealand aren`t easy to beat at home and we need to stack up performances, to play well consistently, that`s our focus.

"It will then be more of the same for the England tour. This New Zealand tour is not a standalone event. Developing consistency is not suddenly just going to come right, it`s a process that takes time."

Former South Africa opener Kirsten, who won the World Cup as India coach last year, said New Zealand`s greatest strength was their ability to think on their feet.

"They are streetsmart and understand their conditions well," Kirsten said.

"We`re purposefully going a bit earlier than usual because the guys need a lot of time in the nets. They need time to get used to the pace and bounce, and they`ll have five good days of practice. It is different over there, even the weather - the warmest it gets is about 21 degrees."

AB de Villiers will be leading the team in the limited-overs matches and he said his first tour as skipper would be an ideal opportunity to move forward in his captaincy after overseeing a hard-fought 3-2 series win over Sri Lanka at home last month.

"I`m very excited because it`s my first tour as captain and it means we`ll get the chance to get some team-spirit going," he said.

"It`s tough doing that at home because everything`s quite disjointed. On tour, there`s nothing else to do but be with your team mates. It was a bit of a rollercoaster against Sri Lanka and I learnt a few lessons."

South Africa`s T20 squad includes three new faces in fast bowler Marchant de Lange, uncapped explosive opening batsman Richard Levi and middle-order batsman Justin Ontong.
Senior players such as Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn have been left out of the T20 squad but will fly out to join the rest of the team before the ODIs.

Bureau Report