South Africa in must-win situation against Kiwis

Coming into the Champions Trophy as the top-ranked one-day side in the world, Graeme Smith’s men are one defeat away from all but playing themselves out of the competition as early as the third day of the fortnight-long bash. Inept bowling and fielding at SuperSport Park on Tuesday during their 55-run drubbing at the hands of Sri Lanka necessitates them to win their two remaining Group B encounters if they are to entertain semifinal hopes.

The first of those two must-win matches is on Thursday against New Zealand, not very high on anyone’s list of favourites but with enough firepower to punish any team that doesn’t play at the top of its game. South Africa were some way short of their best on Tuesday, and an encore on the morrow will bring with it disastrous consequences.

The rust of three months away from competitive cricket was all too evident, especially from a bowling perspective. Much of what transpired on Tuesday stemmed from the lack of execution of skills rather than skills themselves, as Smith admitted after the game.

 “The challenge for us is to turnaround very quickly,” the skipper said, “We are definitely capable of beating both New Zealand and England if we play to our potential. But we need to get ourselves to that level very quickly. Having not played for a while, today was a good wake-up call; we need to make sure we come back stronger on Thursday. We just weren’t good enough today, we didn’t hit our channels as a bowling group.”

Easier said than done, what with the team having less than 36 hours – Thursday is a day game – to recover from a psychological blow, as much as anything else. Whether that period is enough for Herschelle Gibbs to recover from his side strain and walk back in ahead of Hashim Amla is the million-dollar question.

New Zealand have had plenty of match practice in the last month and a bit, and warmed up nicely for the tournament with a 103-run defeat of India in a practice game on Sunday. The return of Shane Bond provides the bowling the cutting edge so obviously missing in recent times. Allied with skipper Daniel Vettori’s parsimony, Bond’s pace could pose awkward questions, though how New Zealand’s batsmen front up against a Protean attack desperate to redeem pride could eventually prove decisive.

Teams (from): South Africa: Graeme Smith (capt), Herschelle Gibbs, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Jean-Paul Duminy, Mark Boucher, Albie Morkel, Johan Botha, Roelof van der Merwe, Wayne Parnell, Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini, Robin Peterson, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (capt), Brendon McCullum, Jesse Ryder, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Jacob Oram, Neil Broom, Kyle Mills, Jeetan Patel, Shane Bond, Ian Butler, Gareth Hopkins, Daryl Tuffey, Brendon Diamanti.
Umpires: Asad Rauf and Aleem Dar (both Pakistan). Third umpire: Daryl Harper (Australia). Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (Sri Lanka).
Hours of play (IST): 1300-1630 hours and 1715-end of play.

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