New Zealand v South Africa: A Dream Semi-Final

23/03/2015 12:47 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
The New Zealand cricket team gather on the Eden Park pitch for a training session ahead of their Cricket World Cup semifinal against South in Auckland, New Zealand, Monday, March 23, 2015. New Zealand plays South Africa here Tuesday, March 24, 2015 in the first semifinal of the Cricket World Cup. (AP Photo/New Zealand Herald,Brett Phibbs)

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By Jamie Alter

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The New Zealand cricket team gather on the Eden Park pitch for a training session a day ahead of their Cricket World Cup semifinal against South Africa in Auckland, New Zealand, Monday, March 23, 2015.

This is it. New Zealand versus South Africa at the semi-final stage of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup. Brendon McCullum against AB de Villiers. Potential versus performance. Hope against hope. Nerves against the nervous. Neither country has ever won a World Cup semi-final. One of them will go to the summit for the first time. Who will blink first?

south africa vs new zealand cricket

Behind McCullum's New Zealand is a nation that has backed this team from well before the tournament began, and whose anticipation and belief has increased with every win. Behind de Villiers' South Africa are passionate supporters who somewhere inside feel that this is their year. Not all of them will admit it, but they do feel something different about this team.

New Zealand are, of course, unbeaten in the World Cup. In their last game, Saturday's quarter-final in Wellington, they had Martin Guptill score the second-highest individual score in ODI history. They are pumped, confident, brimming with positivity. Their captain's leadership is infectious; contagious even, as Stephen Fleming put it. Tim Southee and Trent Boult (the leading wicket-taker in the tournament) have been hailed as on course to be New Zealand's greatest new-ball pairing. Daniel Vettori, apart from the last match, has been economical, accurate and successful. And when he had an off day with the ball, he plucked the catch of the tournament.

"No need to motivate them too much and tell them the importance of tomorrow. We know how important it is. It's a huge occasion for us."

The team has been dented by the ruling out of tearaway quick Adam Milne, as McCullum and the coach Mike Hesson admitted on Monday, but the confidence remains high. The hunger has not diminished. McCullum believes his team can still keep rolling.

"I sort of find that being too stressed out doesn't help that much, so might as well just relax and look forward to the opportunity to go out there and represent your country again tomorrow in obviously a really big game," he said. "It's a great stage to be a part of. It's what you play the game for, all the trainings that you do all the time away from home, all the hard work and sacrifice that you make. This is what you do it for, so we've got that opportunity tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to it. The boys are pretty excited."

South Africa are here after beating Sri Lanka - finalists in the last two World Cups - in a one-sided Sydney quarter-final. They lost to India and Pakistan in the league phase but hammered other sides to make the knockouts. Twice they have made 400. De Villiers has a ballistic century to his name. Hashim Amla has been consistent. The weak link, wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock, scored a breezy fifty in the last match. Dale Steyn has increased in potency, the legspinner Imran Tahir has a five-wicket haul to his credit and four in the quarter-final to fetch him the Man-of-the-Match award. Morne Morkel has quietly supplied energy to back Steyn's pace and Kyle Abbott's consistency.

Ahead of what he termed "one of the most important games" of his career, de Villiers spoke of what it felt like to lead South Africa in a World Cup semi-final. "Every time I wear that shirt, I feel like it's the most important game of my life. I'm not going to put too much emphasis and importance on this game, even though we know what it's all about. I think the guys know enough. No need to motivate them too much and tell them the importance of tomorrow. We know how important it is. It's a huge occasion for us," he said.

south africa vs new zealand cricket

"I've mentioned in a few pressers before, that I believe that if we play to our full potential that nobody is going to stop us in this tournament. It's more important for me to get the guys in a good space to make sure they're confident mentally, they're fresh physically, because I know at the end of the day, if we rock up and play a good game of cricket that we'll come out on top."

De Villiers confirmed that there were no injury concerns and stated that Vernon Philander had trained well for a few days and looked in good shape. Should Philander return, Abbott will have to miss out, which would be unfortunate for him because he has bowled well as Philander's replacement.

"The whole squad is ready to go, and there are a few boys that have put up their hands in the World Cup, so it's difficult. It's really difficult, especially after a win like the last one," said de Villiers. "It's tough to change the squad and the team that played. But, we might have to have a look at a couple of combinations, a couple of possibilities that might strengthen our team. Ideally, I would have liked to have turned out our team before the game, but yeah, we're pretty confident with our thinking process at the moment."

Milne's injury has opened up a fast bowler's slot for one of left-armer Mitchell McClenaghan, who played just one match in the tournament and failed to take a wicket, or late add-on, Matt Henry, who has impressed with his raw pace in the eight ODIs he has played. Neither McCullum nor Hesson commented affirmatively on who would play on Tuesday. If you had to pick on one, it would be McClenaghan because he has been with the squad all tournament. Henry, 23, is coming off five first-class games for Canterbury from which he has taken 20 wickets, and to suddenly have to switch onto one-day international mode, and in a World Cup semi-final, may be too much.

The weather forecast for Auckland on Tuesday is not all that good, with showers predicted on a day that could have temperatures going as high as 23 degrees. Fans of both teams will hope that good weather persists, and that the bat and ball take care of the thunder and lightning.

Probable XIs

New Zealand: 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Brendon McCullum (capt), 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Grant Elliott, 6 Corey Anderson, 7 Luke Ronchi (wk), 8 Daniel Vettori, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Mitchell McClenaghan

South Africa: 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 Rilee Rossouw, 5 AB de Villiers (capt), 6 David Miller, 7 JP Duminy, 8 Dale Steyn, 9 Kyle Abbott/Vernon Philander, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Imran Tahir

Top Run Scorers At ICC World Cup 2015

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