Dhaka, March 24 (IANS) South Africa have never lived up to their stature as a top cricket nation at the World Cup. Playing their sixth edition here in the subcontinent, they have been in great form in the run-up to Friday’s quarter-final here against New Zealand, a side that has never played in a final despite making to the semi-finals five times.
South Africa seem to be playing to their potential with all their bases covered and New Zealand are counting on the return of their injured skipper Daniel Vettori and fast bowler Kyle Mills to add teeth to their bowling attack.
After their impressive allround showing in the group stage, the South Africans are being rated top favourites to win the tournament. They have played to a plan, shown aggression and intensity, but skipper Graeme Smith and his boys need to guard against the team’s well-known frailty in crunch matches. They were the losing semi-finalists in 1992, 1999 and 2007, and got eliminated in the quarter-finals in 1996. They, too, have not played a final.
Head-to-head, South Africa have a better record, having won 30 as against New Zealand’s 17, though the Black Caps are a touch better in the World Cup, having won three of the five matches. The two have met at every World Cup and New Zealand won comprehensively the last two times. And in the subcontinent it is even, 1-1.
The Black Caps, however, are ranked five places below the world number two Proteas on the ODI ladder.
While the South Africans have romped into the last eight by clinching five of their six games to top Group B, New Zealand finished number four from Group A with a 4-2 win-loss record.
The winners of the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium day-night tie would move to Colombo to play the March 29 semi-final against the victors of Saturday’s quarter-final between Sri Lanka and England.
Traditionally, South Africans have strangled opponents in the group stages of the World Cup, only to choke in the knockout rounds. But Smith can draw confidence from his side’s spectacular showing so far in all departments — batting, bowling and fielding.
The fit-again AB de Villiers — South Africa’s principal run scorer (318 from four matches) — would be back after sitting out two games. He and opener Hashim Amla (299) have been in great form while Jean-Paul Duminy’s valiant 99 in trying circumstances against Ireland carried the team to the last eight. Faf du Plessis has chipped in when the team needed the most.
Old warhorses Jacques Kallis and Smith, who failed to fire in the first five games, also came good with the bat in the game against Bangladesh.
In bowling, the spinners have overshadowed their fearsome pacers. Left-arm spinner Robin Peterson is now the tournament’s third highest wicket-taker with 14 scalps, while Pakistan-born leggie Imran Tahir has snared a dozen. Tearaway Dale Steyen has 10, but he and Morne Morkel provided the initial breakthroughs.
However, Smith warned that New Zealand would be no pushovers. “They are a street smart team with ability. We have got to play well to beat them.”
New Zealand, on the other hand, have been plagued by injuries to key bowlers. Vettori strained his knee ligament in the match against Pakistan and has been out of the playing XI since then with Ross Taylor standing in for him.
The veteran left-arm spinner, however, is expected to return to action Friday, thereby boosting the attack on a low and slow track that has favoured spin.
Medium-pacer Mills, is also recovering from a quad injury.
However, New Zealand need to show better consistency. Beginning with an emphatic victory over Kenya, they went down to Australia in the second match, but lifted their spirits to win the next three matches. They were at their best against Pakistan, winning by 110 runs. But they faltered again in the last group game to lose badly to Sri Lanka.
The New Zealand top order has done well, Taylor (245 runs) and the two openers – wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum (239) and Martin Guptill (222) – being among runs. All three smashed rollicking centuries. Pacer Tim Southee has been their most successful bowler with 14 wickets.
The South Africans have an unbeaten record on Shere Bangla National Stadium where the teams chasing won most of the matches — 18 of 29.
South Africa have won all their three games here, including the one against Bangladesh last week. New Zealand have won only once in this stadium.
The teams (from):
South Africa: Graeme Smith (Captain), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Colin Ingram, Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robbin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne van Wyk (wicket keeper).
New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (captain), Brendon McCullum, Jesse Ryder, Jamie How, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Scott Styris, Kane Williamson, James Franklin, Jacob Oram, Nathan McCullum, Tim Southee, Kyle Mills, Daryl Tuffey, Luke Woodcock.
Umpires: Aleem Dar and Rod Tucker
Third umpire: Kumar Dharmasena
Fourth umpire: Nigel Long
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama