Nine World Cup semi-finals, zero World Cup finals. New Zealand and South Africa are no strangers to the last four, but neither has ever experienced the ultimate shoot-out. That will change for one of the teams as Melbourne beckons for the winner.
Six months ago if you had asked for a prediction of this fixture it is likely that South Africa would have been favoured. Now the hosts can rightly be considered the smart money. At the very least, it is the too-close-to-call match-up that the contests should be at this stage of the tournament. The four best teams are in the semi-finals.
New Zealand are on the most glorious of runs: nine ODI wins and counting. Each match of this tournament has thrown up new heroes: Brendon McCullum, Corey Anderson, Tim Southee, Kane Williamson, Daniel Vettori and, latterly, Martin Guptill can be known as the Super Six, while they have had more than a little help from their team-mates.
South Africa’s tournament has not been anywhere near as seamless with the notable group-stage defeats against India and Pakistan, the latter of those at Eden Park. However, their overwhelming performance in the quarter-final against Sri Lanka – their first World Cup knockout victory – has ensured that, at least for a short while, AB de Villiers can experience something his predecessors have not. Winning a crunch game.
But now comes another one. The teams met in the knockout stages four years ago – the quarter-final – where New Zealand won by 49 runs in Dhaka and the contest boiled over when de Villiers was run out. The feats in Sydney will not mean a jot if they cannot progress further.
The build-up to this match has been starkly different for each side. South Africa’s quarter-final was the first to be played which has given them time to settle back into Auckland, so much so that they opted not to train on Monday – they did the same the day before the Sri Lanka match. New Zealand have played, travelled, prepared and must now play again. It is far removed from the week-long build-ups that have almost become agonising during the second half of their group campaign.
As well as being the last match for either side at the tournament, this will also be New Zealand’s last match as a host nation. The country has staged a wonderful event. They deserve a memorable encounter with which to sign-off.
New Zealand WWWWW (last five matches, most recent first)
South Africa WWLWW
In the spotlight
Move aside Brendon McCullum and Trent Boult. There is a new hero in town. Martin Guptill rewrote the record books in Wellington, but now he must refocus having had barely any time to come down from the high of his unbeaten 237. That could be both a positive and a negative; he will never have felt better, but the expectations are now huge. He also has an awful record against South Africa: an average of 11.50 in 11 ODIs, including two ducks and seven single-figure scores.
The fifth bowler has long vexed South Africa, but they appear to have bitten the bullet and played to their strengths with seven batsmen and four frontline bowlers. That means the role of JP Duminy is crucial and he performed it to perfection – or, in fact, probably better than de Villiers could have dreamt of – against Sri Lanka by firstly restricting the scoring then bagging one of more unnoticed hat-tricks. However, against a New Zealand batting line-up that does not hold back, he should be tested. And so should South Africa’s tactics.
Adam Milne’s heel injury, which has ruled him out of the tournament, means an enforced change for New Zealand. It would be quite a turnaround if Matt Henry was rushed straight in, but it is a possibility after Mitchell McClenaghan’s poor outing against Bangladesh and the fact that Kyle Mills is not a like-for-like replacement.
New Zealand (probable) 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 Matt Henry/Kyle Mills, 11 Trent Boult
South Africa’s one decision seemingly rests on Vernon Philander v Kyle Abbott. Abbott helped set the tone against Sri Lanka but Philander’s extra batting is also valued. De Villiers has a minor throat infection and didn’t train on Sunday, but said the entire squad is fit and available.
South Africa (probable) 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 AB de Villiers (capt), 5 Rilee Rossouw, 6 David Miller, 7 JP Duminy, 8 Dale Steyn, 9 Vernon Philander/Kyle Abbott, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Imran Tahir
Pitch and conditions
“Players can get sucked in by the short boundaries and scores have tended to be lower,” Grant Elliott said of Eden Park, earlier this week. The surface is rarely anything but true, but offers encouragement through pace and bounce – a facet both teams possess. McCullum expected less swing than the Australia match as conditions are not as humid. Each side also has a quality spinner, too, should it grip.
The forecast is a little mixed, but the occasional shower seems to the worst that could happen.
Stats and trivia
Trent Boult needs two wickets to become New Zealand’s leading bowler at a World Cup, overtaking Geoff Allott’s 21 victims in 1999
Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers have 40 ODI hundreds between them. The likely New Zealand XI has 34
Corey Anderson needs three wickets for 50 in ODIs. He currently has the fourth-best strike-rate of a bowler with more than 40 ODI wickets
New Zealand’s run rate in the mandatory Powerplay overs of 7.54 is easily the best among all teams in this tournament. Australia are next with a rate of 6.16. South Africa are fifth with a run rate of 4.95
“Any game you play, some get more nervous than others but the general feeling is that we can’t wait to get out there and test our skills against a very good South African team and in a crunch game. The way we dealt with the expectations of the last game should hold is us in reasonable stead.”
Brendon McCullum isn’t worried if some players are nervous
“It would be silly to focus too much on the cricket they’ve played. They’ve played really well but if we play to our full potential, no one is going to stop us. I need to make sure they are confident mentally and fresh physically.”
AB de Villiers keeps his focus on his own team rather than New Zealand