ICC Cricket World Cup 2015: Preview First Semi – New Zealand vs South Africa

 Auckland 

And then there were four. To everyone’s pleasure and nobody’s surprise, it’s the top 4 teams in ODI cricket that have filled the four semifinal slots. This is what it should come down to, as it often does in Tennis Grand Slams – a shootout between the best, the big 4, to crown the very best. Two months ago, perhaps India wasn’t expected to be in this elite group. But they have turned it around in classic fashion, gunning seriously for their second World Cup triumph in a row. 
 
Before they lock horns with eternal favorites Australia though, they must watch the tournament’s two most fascinating teams battle it out first. As unbelievable as it sounds, New Zealand and South Africa, two current giants of ODI cricket, have never reached a World Cup Final. Whatever the result here, we will have a first-time World Cup finalist, and a much deserved one at that too. In a way, these two are the fairytale teams of the tournament – because they’re always a step short in ICC tournaments; New Zealand overperforms in every World Cup, while South Africa underperforms, but they just can’t get past the semifinal stage. This is the Kiwis’ sixth semifinal, and the Proteas fourth. They are well-deserving teams in their own right. 
 
PATH TO THE SEMIS:
 
SOUTH AFRICA have looked iffy, but have done the business. They lost to India and Pakistan in the group stage, still finished second on run rate, and then destroyed the dangerous Lankans in the quarterfinal. That was their first-ever knockout win in a World Cup, and gave them immense confidence – something that was perhaps missing as they entered as favorites again. With the hoodoo off their back, they look pumped up, intense and desperate to go all the way. 
 
NEW ZEALAND are one of two teams (the other being INDIA) to be unbeaten so far in this tournament. They have, to their advantage, played all their 7 games at home – being one of two host nations. They even defeated Australia at home, barely though, but have blown away England and Sri Lanka in the group. They scored a record 392 against a weak Windies side in the quarters, and will be truly tested against South Africa in the semis. McCullum has been hailed for his aggressive captaincy, but is yet to play a defining innings this tournament. 
 
In their last World Cup encounter in 2011, a ragtag New Zealand side shocked favorites South Africa in the quarterfinal after setting them a low score of 222. Smith’s team was knocked out, and New Zealand went on to lose to Sri Lanka in the semis. 
 
These are arguably the two best and most balanced bowling line-ups in the tournament. New Zealand has the best new-ball pair in Boult and Southee, with Milne to follow. South Africa has Morkel and Steyn, with Abbott close behind. South Africa has the most successful spinner in the tournament in Tahir, while New Zealand has the wily Vettori, who has performed equally well. 
 
The two most destructive batsmen in the world cricket – McCullum and AB – are leaders of their respective teams. McCullum is the better captain, but AB is the best all-round batsman. Their fielding is superior to most in this era. 
 
Much will depend on Hashim Amla and Kane Williamson – the sane voices in explosive orders. Guptill is now the highest scorer for New Zealand this World Cup, while De Kock hit form against the Lankans. Ross Taylor and Faf Du Plessis will shore up the middle order, while Corey Anderson and David Miller will look to clear the small ground with relative ease. South Africa’s batting lineup is a tad superior, but when they bat second under pressure, it’s the pressure that gets to them if they’re chasing anything substantial. 
 
Any of these bowling lineups can run through batsmen on their day. Will it be a runfest or a low-scoring thriller? 
 
Whatever the case, one hopes it will be closer than the four one-sided quarterfinal matches. For cricket neutrals, or for Indian fans looking for comeuppance if their own team loses, any one of these two teams winning the Cup will do. Anyone, but Australia
 
A question begs to be asked though: With New Zealand losing all their semis so far, are they not in danger of inhering the dreaded c-word with a loss here?

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