South Africa captain Graeme Smith has advised counterpart Brendon McCullum to block out "the noise" of criticism surrounding New Zealand cricket.
Approaching his 10th anniversary in charge of South Africa's Test team, Smith said on Thursday that McCullum's "strength of character" and ability to ignore the criticism would be crucial to the tourists' hopes of battling through one of their lowest periods - which culminated in being bowled out for 45 in an innings loss in the first Test.
Two teams at opposite ends of the rankings and their development face off again in the second Test in Port Elizabeth starting on Friday.
Smith's settled and top-ranked Proteas are expected to seal a series win over an inexperienced and rattled New Zealand recovering from what coach Mike Hesson referred to as a reality check in Cape Town, and unsettled by renewed criticism back home of its management.
Smith backed McCullum, an experienced cricketer before his promotion to Test skipper, to be able to handle the difficult situation in the build-up to the second and final Test at St. George's Park.
"I think the key is when there's a lot of noise around you is to focus on how to get your team through that noise," Smith said. "Keep them focused on what's important and get the cricket side right."
Smith has recently had the significant advantage of leading a group of players possibly at their peaks, with fast bowlers Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, allrounder Jacques Kallis and batsmen Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers delivering regularly strong performances to take South Africa to series victories in England and Australia last year and the top of the rankings.
New Zealand's failing Test form was exacerbated by the unpopular decision from Hesson and the selectors to strip Ross Taylor of the captaincy and promote McCullum to lead a team of young players.
McCullum's first decision as new skipper was to bat first at Newlands, where his side was bowled out for 45 in less than 20 overs and lost by an innings and 27 runs, unleashing another wave of criticism from New Zealand's cricket followers.
"A game like that always gets you to ask questions when you've been beaten comprehensively," Smith said. "It's never easy as a captain. You carry a massive load, especially in those situations. You have to front up ... and that creates a lot more pressure on you and certainly he (McCullum) will be feeling that."I've certainly been there in my career. Obviously it does grow and get a little bit easier. I think that inner strength of character is crucial at those times. Trying to keep a level head around your team, not get too emotional, is a crucial factor in those situations."