Injuries rocked New Zealand and South Africa Thursday, two days out from the start of the third and final Test in Hamilton with Tim Southee ruled out and Quinton de Kock doubtful.
New Zealand, under pressure to win if they are to level the series, were already sweating on their firepower and the availability of Trent Boult when his new-ball partner Southee was sidelined by a hamstring injury.
South Africa have no experienced back up for de Kock, who plays a prominent role in their balance as a wicketkeeper-batsman. The uncapped Heinrich Klaasen is travelling as the sole replacement.
The injuries added to the dark clouds hovering near Hamilton with the forecast for showers throughout the five days of the Test, reducing the prospect of a result.
South Africa, in an unbeatable 1-0 lead after the eight-wicket, three-day thrashing they inflicted on New Zealand in the second Test at Wellington, said they would make a late call on whether the influential de Kock would play.
New Zealand, however, ruled out Southee as soon as his hamstring tear was confirmed but said there would be no replacement bowler called up.
This indicated a start for Boult, who missed the Wellington Test through leg soreness and has only had light sessions in the nets this week ahead of a final fitness test.
Complicating South Africa's team selection with the question mark over de Kock was the state of the pitch.
They had called in Dane Piedt as a fresh spinner before Keshav Maharaj and JP Duminy performed with distinction in Wellington but expectations of a spinners paradise in Hamilton appeared to be unfounded.
The pitch has a typical New Zealand grass cover, which seemed at odds with coach Mike Hesson's claim that it would be unwise to do anything that would further assist South Africa's impressive seam bowling attack.
- Soul searching -
His South African counterpart, Russell Domingo, was pleased with what he saw at Seddon Park, despite having a swag of spinners at his disposal.
"Everyone was saying it was going to be a dustbowl, but it doesn't look like a dustbowl at the moment... it looks a good wicket," he said, but adding he did not think South Africa had an advantage.
"I don't think we've ever had a game against New Zealand that we've gone in thinking 'we've got this'," he said.
"We're on top of them, but the sides are so evenly matched, we know we're going to have a tough challenge."
New Zealand have done some serious soul searching since their Wellington humiliation when they were crushed by spinners on a seamers wicket.
Opener Jeet Raval, one of the few to distinguish himself, contributing 80 of their second innings 171, maintained the drawn first Test in Dunedin showed there was not much between the two sides.
But both batsmen and bowlers had to share the blame for the second Test capitulation, he said.
"It's about being better for long periods of time. If you look at the batting and bowling sides, we can both do better," said Raval.