Dhaka, March 24 (IANS) South Africa look far superior on form, but New Zealand are counting on the return of their skipper Daniel Vettori to add teeth to their spin bowling attack as the two sides are set to clash in a cricket World Cup quarter-final here Friday.
After their impressive allround show in the group stage, the South Africans are being rated as one of the tournament favourites. They have played to a plan, shown aggression and intensity, but skipper Graeme Smith and his boys need to guard against the team’s traditional frailty in crunch matches. They were the losing semi-finalists in 1992, 1999 and 2007, and got eliminated in the quarter-finals in 1996. Let alone winning the Cup, they are yet to play a final.
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.
Ranked five places below the world number two Proteas in the ODI ladder, the Kiwis have also never played a final, but featured in the semi-finals in five previous editions of the event.
The winners of the day-night tie Friday at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium would move to Colombo to play the March 29 semi-final against the victors of Saturday’s quarter-final game between Sri Lanka and England.
Head to head, South Africa are miles ahead, having won 30 of the 51 games against New Zealand. The Kiwis have won only 17, while four other matches ended in ties. The statistics can make the Proteas feel confident, but past record can also be a reality check.
Traditionally, South Africans have strangled opponents in the group stages of the World Cup, only to choke in the knockout rounds.
Moreover, New Zealand have a 3-2 edge in the five games between the two in the World Cup, where they have clashed in every edition since 1992. But Smith can draw confidence form his side’s spectacular showing in all departments — batting, bowling and fielding.
The fit-again AB de Villiers — South Africa’s principal run scorer (318 from four matches) who would be back after sitting out in two games — and opener Hashim Amla (299) have been in great form. Jean-Paul Duminy’s valiant 99 in trying circumstances against Ireland carried the team to the last eight and Faf du Plessis too has chipped in.
Old warhorses Jacques Kallis and Smith, who failed to fire in the first five games, also came good with the bat in the last game against Bangladesh. While Kallis got his first half-century of the tournament, Smith fell five short.
“Everyone in the squad seems to be in good form. It also hasn’t only been eleven guys that have played their part, as we’ve seen in the last few games,” said Kallis, playing in his fourth World Cup.
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 Steyn has also picked up 10.
But Kallis is not taking New Zealand easy.
“New Zealand are a dangerous side that on their day can beat anyone. They bat deep and have plenty of allrounders,” Kallis said.
“It won’t be game over even if we get early wickets and it’s crucial that we stay on top of our game for 300 balls and ensure that we pounce at the slightest show of weakness,” he said.
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.
However, the veteran left-arm spinner is expected to return to action on the morrow, thereby boosting the attack on a low and slow track that has favoured spin.
Medium-pacer Kylie Mills is also recovering from a quadricep injury.
However, Kiwis need to improve on 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, including a 110-run triumph over Pakistan. But they again faltered in the last group game, tasting defeat against Sri Lanka.
The New Zealand top order has done well. With Taylor (245 runs) and the two openers – wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum (239) and Martin Guptill (222) – being among runs. Pacer Tim Southee has been their most successful bowler with 14 wickets.
South Africa: Graeme Smith (captain), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, AB de Villiers, Jean-Paul Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, Colin Ingram, Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne van Wyk (wicketkeeper).
New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (captain), Hamish Bennett, James Franklin, Martin Guptill, Jamie How, Brendon McCullum (wicketkeeper), Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, Jesse Ryder, Tim Southee, Scott Styris, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson, Luke Woodcock.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pakistan) and Rod Tucker (Australia)
Third umpire: Kumar Dharmasena (Sri Lanka)
Fourth umpire: Nigel Long (England)
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (Sri Lanka)