23/03/2015 9:31 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Two Fascinating Contests To Watch Out For In The New Zealand Vs South Africa Semi-Final

PETER PARKS via Getty Images
South Africa's Hashim Amla celebrates his century during the 2015 Cricket World Cup Pool B match between Ireland and South Africa in Canberra on March 3, 2015. AFP PHOTO / Peter PARKS --IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE-- (Photo credit should read PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)

Will Brendon McCullum play Dale Steyn with the same derring-do as he has, with other opening bowlers in the World Cup yet? Will Hashim Amla, the sublime, free-stroking opener be able to counter the swing and thrust of Trent Boult and Tim Southee with the new ball?

These are two of the most fascinating contests in thestore when South Africa and New Zealand meet in the first semi-final. Arguably the most crucial too for, despite the fact that both teams have depth in batting and bowling, what happens at the start could well determine the finish.

McCullum, who has gone hell for leather right from the first ball -- and said after the quarter-final against West Indies that he will not change his approach. "That is part of the strategy," the New Zealand captain said in the post-match interview.

"It has to do with how we have worked out our game plan, keeping in mind the composition of the side and the roles assigned to each player," explained McCullum who has the best strike rate (185.51) in the tournament yet, ahead of other powerful strikers like Glen Maxwell (183.53), AB de Villiers (144.29), David Miller (127.90) and David Warner (123.07).

brendon mccullum

But while McCullum's strike rate is sensational, he has succeeded only in fits and starts. In seven matches, he has scored 269 runs, which is modest compared to some of the leading batsmen from other teams. It raises the query whether a slightly more circumspect approach is not needed in a semi-final.

McCullum's high-risk game promises dividends if he clicks, but there is a danger that his early dismissal against a strong South African attack could set his team back badly.

The fact that New Zealand's bowlers have made short work of opposing batsmen - 250 by West Indies at Wellington last Sunday was the highest against them - has obviously emboldened McCullum to stick to his strategy. But there were occasions when it could have boomeranged.

Against Australia, he made a quick-fire 40 before being dismissed and New Zealand barely scraped through against inspired bowling from Mitchell Starc while chasing a meagre 150.

Against the West Indies he fell for 12, trying to hit every ball out of the ground. If Martin Guptill had not extended his century to a record-breaking 237 not-out, the match against the West Indies may not have been as one-sided as it transpired.

McCullum's high-risk game promises dividends if he clicks, but there is a danger that his early dismissal against a strong South African attack could set his team back badly. And yet, having taken this leap of faith and come so far, a modest approach would signal fear to the opponents, which McCullum would loathe.

With Steyn rediscovering his mojo somewhat in the match against Sri Lankans, hitting the right length, working up good pace and getting the ball to swing, McCullum will not have it easy.

Unlike McCullum, in Amla's case, it is his strike rate (96.13) which needs to be upped for South Africa to get the rapid start in the first powerplay that they have been missing in most matches yet, putting pressure on the middle order.

hashim amla

Amla's run tally (323 in 7 innings) compares favourably with McCullum's, though it must be said that 159 of those runs came in one match - against Ireland. In that sense, Amla can be said to have under-performed.

But there is not a bowler or opposing side which does not fear Amla's prowess. He does not have the power of Miller or the magical innovations of de Villiers, but is a scintillating player who uses his bat like a cutlass to leave opponents in tatters.

While he may have squandered some good starts in this tournament, Amla's record shows how dangerous he can be if he gets a start. He has been the fastest to 20 ODI centuries - ahead of both Virat Kohli and the great Viv Richards.

Amla could be the man to take the game away from New Zealand unless they get him early.

His career strike rate too is impressive - a shade below 90 - which is rare for an opening batsman. While a great deal of attention has been focuses on de Vliiers - and justifiably too - Amla could be the man to take the game away from New Zealand unless they get him early.

McCullum will be looking to his in-form opening bowlers, Boult and Southee to make Amla's innings short-lived. The former has the ability to bring the ball in to the right-hander, while Southee has a natural, late outswinger.

Both these types of deliveries would test Amla, who plays with a high backlift and also likes to drive on the up. But his stupendous record suggests that unless the bowlers are on the right length and line, they could go for plenty in turn.

As is now well-known, neither South Africa nor New Zealand have ever been in a World Cup final though they have been several times in the semis. In that sense, one could say that both have been guilty of 'choking' in the past.

These two `opening' battles are mouth-watering from a spectator's point of view because of the quality of players involved as also because they could be strong determinants in the outcome of the match.

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