South Africa have little room for error
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Start time 9:30 am, 7:30 GMT
The format of the 2009 Champions Trophy - a lean version compared to its flabby predecessors - leaves little margin for error: teams can afford one slip-up at the most during the group stage and South Africa have used theirs up in the opening game against Sri Lanka. They will not be knocked out if they lose again but will become dependent on other results going their way before net run-rate comes into the equation. It's not a predicament any team wants to be in, not least one that was ranked No. 1 in the world earlier in the week.
South Africa, therefore, will be giving Thursday's match in Centurion must-win status. They gambled in the opening game by picking 20-year-old Wayne Parnell ahead of Makhaya Ntini, and by choosing to field first despite naming two specialist spinners in their XI. Graeme Smith, though, said after the 55-run defeat that he wouldn't have done anything differently. South Africa came into the tournament with no international 50-over match-practice since April and were found wanting. They cannot afford to be found wanting tomorrow.
Their opponents don't possess the unorthodox and unique talents of the Sri Lankans but New Zealand make up for that with discipline, doggedness and sheer hard work. Rarely have they failed to make it past the first round of an ICC competition. Daniel Vettori's team, though, has had a poor run in ODIs this year, losing eight games and winning only five. Their last two defeats were heavy ones to India and Sri Lanka during the Compaq Cup and they've had mixed results in the two warm-up matches in South Africa as well: they lost the first one to the Warriors but bounced back to beat India, one of the tournament favourites, convincingly in the second.
New Zealand are a team without stars and rely on collective contribution from their batsmen to achieve a challenging total. Jesse Ryder, Ross Taylor, Martin Guptill and Neil Broom have all scored half-centuries in the warm-ups but Brendon McCullum has failed. Their chances of beating South Africa will hinge on a few players coming good rather than one batsman making a stellar contribution. Their disciplined but sometimes bland attack has been spiced up by the return of Shane Bond and his pace up front is capable of rattling opposition top-orders before the ever-reliable Vettori brings himself on.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa - LLWWW
New Zealand - LLWLL
South Africa will once again be without Herschelle Gibbs, who suffered a side strain, which means Hashim Amla will continue to open the innings with Smith. Amla was bowled for 2 by Angelo Mathews in the first game. South Africa, though, are hopeful Gibbs will be fit for their final group match against England. There are no other likely changes to the XI unless South Africa opt for Makhaya Ntini instead of Wayne Parnell, who conceded 79 runs in ten overs against Sri Lanka.
South Africa (likely): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 AB de Villiers, 5 JP Duminy, 6 Mark Boucher (wk), 7 Albie Morkel, 8 Johan Botha, 9 Roelof van der Merwe, 10 Wayne Parnell, 11 Dale Steyn.
New Zealand will be without two of their allrounders after Jacob Oram was ruled out with a hamstring injury and Ian Butler with a stomach bug. Butler has been unable to train with the team but is expected to play Sunday's game against Sri Lanka, while Oram needs a scan to have his hamstring damage assessed. "We're hopeful it's just a very minor tear but will have more information in 48 hours so he is out of the game," the coach Andy Moles said in the New Zealand Herald. The allrounder Brendon Diamanti is one option, while there is also a decision required on whether to play two spinners.
New Zealand (possible): 1 Brendon McCullum (wk), 2 Jesse Ryder, 3 Martin Guptill, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Grant Elliott, 6 Neil Broom, 7 Daniel Vettori (capt), 8 Kyle Mills, 9 Shane Bond, 10 Daryl Tuffey, 11Jeetan Patel.
Watch out for...
The Graeme Smith that returned to international action after elbow surgery was leaner and fitter than the batsman during the ICC World Twenty20 in June. He gave South Africa a fast start in the run chase against Sri Lanka, biffing 58 off 44 balls before falling to Ajantha Mendis' first delivery. His team will hope for a more damaging performance from Smith as they aim to qualify from Group B.
Shane Bond's return from two years of exile is a couple of matches old but his performances during the Compaq Cup in Sri Lanka would have escaped viewer attention in most parts of the world. He provides New Zealand's new-ball attack with much-needed hostility and fans worldwide will tune in to see if he still possesses the long run-up and the extra pace that made the best of batsmen hop and duck.
Pitch and conditions
Rain brought an early end to the match between South Africa and Sri Lanka in Centurion but the forecast for Thursday is fair, although some cloud is expected. The pitch was flat and offered little in terms of swing and seam although it is unclear whether the same surface will be used tomorrow.
Stats and trivia
- New Zealand have lost 13 and won only two of the 17 ODIs they have played against South Africa in South Africa. The two victories were in the 2003 World Cup and during the 2007 tour.
- Bond has taken 23 wickets at an average of 22.43 in 13 matches in South Africa. Against them, however, Bond's average for his 16 wickets goes up to nearly 32. Vettori also averages an expensive 45.54 for his 11 wickets in South Africa.
- Among New Zealand's current batsmen, Brendon McCullum averages the highest in South Africa. He's scored 237 runs in 10 innings at an average of 26.33.
"It doesn't matter to us that South Africa lost to Sri Lanka. We are under no illusions as to how good a unit they are."
Vettori knows the magnitude of the challenge that awaits his team in Centurion.
"We got a good wake-up call against Sri Lanka and now we have to do a big turnaround and there is not much time to do it."
Smith is also aware of the magnitude of the challenge that awaits his team in the days ahead.
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo