WELLINGTON - South Africa opens a one-day series against New Zealand on Tuesday looking to strike a psychological blow against the Black Caps ahead of the Cricket World Cup early next year. The three-match series, which begins in the North Island's picturesque Mount Maunganui, will also give the Proteas a chance to familiarise themselves with local conditions in preparation for the World Cup pool matches they will play at New Zealand venues.

On paper, the series should be a mis-match, with South Africa ranked the world's second best ODI team, just behind Australia, while New Zealand languish at seventh. In addition, the Proteas have three batsmen in the ICC's top 10 (AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock), and two of the world's best-ranked bowlers (Dale Steyn and Ryan McLaren).

New Zealand, meanwhile, have just one player ranked among the ODI elite in batsman Ross Taylor, and he will miss the series with a calf strain. But the Blacks Caps frequently punch above their weight in the 50-over format, including eliminating the Proteas at the quarter-final stage of the last World Cup in 2011 and claiming a first-ever ODI series win on South African soil last year.

Captain de Villiers said the tourists would not underestimate New Zealand, either in the upcoming series or the World Cup, when he believes home advantage means Brendon McCullum's men will rank among the tournament favourites. "I wouldn't call them dark horses, I'd say one of the favourites," he said. "They're always a very competitive ODI team. Playing on their home grounds in their country, they'll be even more competitive."

The World Cup is a glaring omission from South Africa's trophy cabinet and de Villiers said the New Zealand series, and an ODI series in Australia next month, provided the chance to sharpen his team's skills for the tournament, particularly in the field. "It's turning games around, doing special stuff that I see other teams do," he said. "I don't believe we are in the top two fielding teams in the world and you need that in a World Cup."

De Villiers said the New Zealand and Australia series would also give selectors an opportunity to assess fringe players and allow the Proteas to send a message to two sides he sees as World Cup threats. "Mentally and physically, it would be a really good way for us to get on top of them before the World Cup starts," he said.

New Zealand fast bowler Adam Milne will join Taylor on the sick list for the series, while batsman Kane Williamson will miss the first match and then undergo a fitness test. The Black Caps have called in Dean Brownlie and Tom Latham to bolster their depleted batting stocks. They also welcome veteran spinner Dan Vettori back into the 14-man squad after a long stint on the sidelines injured, although it is not yet clear whether he will play.

Southee declared fit for SA ODIs

Tim Southee has been declared fit for the ODI series against South Africa after missing the warm-up game due to a sore shoulder. New Zealand have also added batsmen Dean Brownlie and Tom Latham to their squad of 14 for the first match of the series.

Latham and Brownlie, who are both making a return to the ODI squad, were included to make up for the losses of Ross Taylor, who is out of the series with a calf injury and Kane Williamson, who will miss the first match because of a problem with his wrist.

"Tom had a very good tour to the West Indies with the Test team and also impressed in the warm-up match in Lincoln, while Dean was in strong form on the recent NZ A tour to the UK," Mike Hesson, the New Zealand coach, said.

Brownlie, 30, played the last of his three ODIs in July 2012 while Latham, 22, has not featured in the ODI side since New Zealand's tour of Sri Lanka last year. Mount Maunganui, which is hosting the first two ODIs, will debut as an international venue. The third ODI of the series will be played at Seddon Park in Hamilton. It's the earliest start to an international series in the history of New Zealand cricket and Hesson said that the spring conditions will present a challenge.

"We've never played international cricket this early in the season so the conditions will be challenging and it's hard to know how the new ground at Bay Oval will shape up," he said. "But both teams will be hungry to get their Cricket World Cup preparations off to a good start."

NEW ZEALAND SQUAD, 1ST ODI: Brendon McCullum (capt), Corey Anderson, Trent Boult, Dean Brownlie, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Mitchell McClenaghan, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, James Neesham, Luke Ronchi, Tim Southee, Daniel Vettori.