Auckland, March 23:
New Zealand and South Africa will look to entering their maiden final of the cricket World Cup when they meet each other in the first semi-final match at the Eden Park here on Tuesday.
Co-hosts New Zealand will play their seventh semi-final and they not only need to overcome the pressure of expectations but also a resilient South Africa. A.B. de Villers’ men are eager not to suffer again the agonies of failing at the penultimate hurdle — which they have done thrice already.
New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum is wary of the pressure of playing in front of the home crowd.
“When you are going good, it is great to have the crowd on your side,” McCullum said.
McCullum’s home team has gone through the pool stage undefeated and opener Martin Guptill’s unbeaten 237 overwhelmed the West Indies by 143 runs in the quarter-final. But come Tuesday, he knows there is no room for error against the Proteas.
“The way the team dealt with the pressures of the last game that should hold us in reasonable stead. I have found that being too stressed out doesn’t help you much.
“I might as well just relax and look forward to the opportunity to go out there and represent my country on a big stage. It is what you play the game for,” McCullum said.
So far in this World Cup, New Zealand have been spot on – be it with the bat or the ball – with each and every player stepping up when the situation demanded.
McCullum and Guptill have provided good starts and when they failed, vice-captain Kane Williamson and experienced middle-order batsmen Ross Taylor and Grant Elliot have consolidated the team’s batting.
Young all-rounder Corey Anderson and wicketkeeper-batsman Luke Ronchi have also been crucial in their dual roles.
The Kiwis’ bowling trio of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori, 36, have been key to the success of the New Zealanders, collectively managing 49 wickets from seven matches. Injured pacer Adam Milne has been replaced by fast bowler Matt Henry.
Former captain Vettori, with experience of 293 ODIs, is still New Zealand’s go-to-man in tough conditions.
Captain McCullum will once again bank heavily on these three bowlers when his side takes on the Proteas that has a strong batting line-up. Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, skipper de Villiers, Jean-Paul Duminy and David Miller have the abilities to milk any bowling outfit on their day.
If the hosts prefer a greenish pitch that can suit their opening bowlers Southee and Boult, South Africa will also look to give New Zealand the taste of their own medicine.
Led by right-armer Dale Steyn, South Africa have the options of fielding four right-arm seamers in Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbot. The Proteas pacers are capable of extracting swing, pace and bounce and can be fearsome on a responsive Eden Park pitch.
South Africa won four matches in the pool stage and humbled 1996 World Cup winners Sri Lanka with a seven-wicket victory in the quarter-finals.
Their only concern was the poor form of young opening batsman Quinton de Kock. The left-handed wicketkeeper scored an unbeaten fifty during the last eight contest to relieve the Proteas’ worry.
“I believe that if we play to our full potential then nobody is going to stop us in this tournament,” de Villiers asserted at the pre-match press conference on Monday.
However, New Zealand will test South Africa’s batting that has been traditionally fragile while chasing targets, particularly in big matches.
Moreover, the hosts will take confidence from the fact that they have defeated the African unit in all the last three meetings at the World Cup.
“There has been a lot of emphasis on our past and South Africa not doing well at World Cups. We don’t mind that too much. Honestly I’m not putting emphasis on that at this World Cup at all,” de Villiers said. (IANS)