Kiwis stand in Protean way

Given New Zealands inconsistent display, South Africa appear primed for a semifinal berth

Kiwis stand in Protean way

Jack of all trades: The bulwark of South African batting, Jacques Kallis will once again carry South Africa hopes when they lock horns with New Zealand in the third quarterfinal at Mirpur on Friday. DH photo/Srikanta Sharma R

Smith, already free of T20 responsibilities, has decided to quit as the captain of the ODI team as well after the World Cup, though he will continue to be at the helm in the Tests. On the other hand, Vettori will end his stint as the skipper of the Kiwi squad from all versions after the quadrennial tournament. So, it’s no-brainer that both the southpaws will desperately hope and try everything in their hands to extend their stay in the tournament.

 Both the veterans, however, understand well that they need the same desperation -- to win -- from their respective team-mates as well. On that count, Smith will derive plenty of encouragement as almost all the South African players have been able to chip in with meaningful contributions along the way whereas Vettori doesn’t have much look to back fondly.

Even if one were to base the argument purely on the performance in the Cup so far, the gulf in the quality of the two sides is admittedly yawning; the Proteas topped Group B while the Kiwis brought up the rear among the qualifiers from Group A.    

Barring their familiar failing in the crunch against England, South Africa have been by far the most dominant team from either group while New Zealand found their bearings right only against Pakistan; apart from their matches against minnows that is.

Much like the West Indies, it’s New Zealand’s performance against big teams that has been a bit fickle. While their bowling has been decent without being threatening, it’s the blow-hot and blow-cold batting that left them in lurch against Australia and Sri Lanka.

In Ross Taylor they do have a potential remedy for their batting woes, but the captain-in-waiting has been far too inconsistent for the Kiwis to bat around him. He showed the way against Pakistan with a blistering century, but does one swallow make a summer? If ever the Kiwis needed Taylor to stitch something special, it has to be Friday.

Brendon McCullum, nursing a knee injury, has been a small-team bully so far failing to notch up anything significant against quality attacks. Same goes to Martin Guptill while Jesse Ryder has flattered to deceive.     

Vettori’s return after skipping the game against Sri Lanka due to a knee injury will add some edge to their bowling on a wicket which promises to play slow and stay low. New Zealand suffered a humiliating 4-0 loss against Bangladesh in the ODI series late last year, but they would be hoping their better knowledge of the conditions would hold them in good stead.

Having enjoyed an extended rest, South Africa appear primed to make their fifth semifinal bid. Both on paper and performance, the Proteas are a far superior side and it will take some effort to bring them down from their pedestal.

The batting line-up certainly is intimidating and so far has lived up to its reputation but it’s the variety in their bowling that has been South Africa’s stand-out feature this tournament. Left-arm spinner Robin Peterson and leg-spinner Imran Tahir have been a revelation with their wicket-taking abilities even overshadowing Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, arguably the best new-ball bowlers now.

Steyn with his pace and movement and Morkel with his bounce are capable of negating the apparent slowness of the surface but even if they can’t, Peterson and Tahir -- and possibly offie Johan Botha if they choose to go with an extra spinner in the event of AB de Villiers keeping the wickets – would be difficult to deal with.

Teams (from)

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)

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