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New Zealand vs South Africa: An Equal Battle

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ICC Cricket ODI World Cup 2015Chokers, under-achievers, perennial favourites, bridesmaid forever – these are some of the tags that will be in-line to be scrubbed off either New Zealand or South Africa on Tuesday. It is the first semi-final of the 2015 ODI World Cup for everyone else. For these two sides, it is a chance to take a shot at eternal glory. Sadly enough, only one team will make it through to Melbourne on March 29, the other will start all over again in four years’ time.

New Zealand have made it to six semi-finals before this one. Their first two appearances were in the 1975 and 1979 World Cups, but no one pays attention to that bygone era, thanks to the vast difference in the pace of the game today. They waited until 1992 then, when the tournament first came to their backyard, but were beaten in Auckland by eventual champions Pakistan. They were done over by the same opponents in 1999 as well, and then lost twice in a row to Sri Lanka, in 2007 and 2011. Number seven is considered to be lucky in some cultures. Is it so in this part of the world?

South Africa meanwhile will be hoping that number three is lucky enough for them. Their first two appearances were in 1992 (Australia-New Zealand) and 1999 (England), losing to England/rain and Australia respectively. They didn’t end well for the Proteas, and the tag of chokers has stuck onto them ever since, afflicting their performance in matches that mattered. With a high-intensity victory over Sri Lanka in the quarter-final at Sydney, it can be said that they have finally broken the knock-out voodoo at the very ground where it all began.

The Proteas might appear to be a totally different team on the morrow. They have endured a tough pool stage, beaten by both India and Pakistan, shockingly. It raised enough questions about their ability to chase, with most pressure on the shoulders of skipper AB de Villiers. If they can bowl in the manner they did against Lanka, that factor might take care of itself.

But for Wahab Riaz, Kyle Abbott’s spell to Kumar Sangakkara could have qualified as the top one of this tournament, as he didn’t allow someone who had scored four hundreds on the bounce to put bat on ball. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel used the bounce in the SCG pitch, and Eden Park could be to their liking as well. Yet for all their late form, anything they can do will be matched by Trent Boult and Tim Southee. If you look up the statistics, Daniel Vettori and Imran Tahir are matched up too, with the Kiwi shading this battle on the basis of his experience.

JP Duminy is a part-timer and on a short ground with ridiculous boundaries, his bowling can be easy fodder for big hitters. On the other hand, Adam Milne’s injury has meant that someone new will come into their eleven. Mitchell McClenaghan has played prior in Hamilton against Bangladesh, the only change they have made to their first choice combination in the tournament so far. The fifth bowler then will decide this particular battle.

On the batting front, you don’t have to look too far. It is a straight shoot-out between Brendon McCullum and de Villiers. The difference herein is obvious. AB is the best batsman in world cricket at the moment, and he didn’t get here by playing mindless strokes. When he goes ballistic, the mayhem is unprecedented. But there is a method to his madness. Seldom are his shorts miss-hits, most of them are despatched to where he intends them to. There is great precision in his batting like Hashim Amla, the adventurism of Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis, the attacking brilliance of Rilee Russouw, David Miller and Duminy, all combined. He is a one-man army, who still has these batsmen as back-up.

Meanwhile, McCullum sees ball, hits it and thinks afterwards. This strategy relies on the bravado of Martin Guptill, the solidity of Kane Williamson and belief in Ross Taylor that they will avoid a top-order collapse. Then Corey Anderson, Grant Elliott and Luke Ronchi can do their thing. It has worked so far. It only has to fail once though, and therein lies the danger for New Zealand.

This fixture is finally balanced, an even battle atleast before the toss, with crucial points of differentiation. A slight touch can unhinge the contest and make it a one-sided affair. 40,000 people will be there at Eden Park tomorrow. They won’t like it if it turns out to be one. They will hate it even more if their team is on the receiving end. If not, they will make enough noise to shake the Proteas in their boots. They have done it to Australia just over twenty days ago, and that’s something you don’t witness too often.



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