South Africa can improve, but can New Zealand?
February 19, Hamilton
Start time 1900 (0600 GMT)
New Zealand had won seven international matches in a row before the first Twenty20 against South Africa. Their success began with the celebrated Test win in Hobart, and continued through the home series against Zimbabwe, whom they did not merely beat, but pulverised. Yet, New Zealand had to prove their form was real and not inflated by a succession of matches against relatively weak opposition. They had to reproduce it against South Africa.
And they did. Brendon McCullum's side had a near-perfect performance in Wellington. Their bowlers did not let South Africa's batsmen find rhythm, and their batsmen did not let South Africa's bowlers settle. The intensity of New Zealand's fielding was jaw dropping too, and their athleticism produced breakthroughs at times when South Africa were trying to kick on. It is hard to imagine how New Zealand can substantially improve on that performance. They were that good. The challenge for them will be to maintain such high standards when South Africa raise their game.
Because South Africa can raise their game, substantially. None of their capable batsmen were any good at the Westpac Stadium. Justin Ontong devastated Kane Williamson for four balls and JP Dunimy was steady not spectacular, but 147 was below-par on a flat pitch with short boundaries. It allowed New Zealand to chase at their own pace. South Africa's bowlers also allowed New Zealand to chase at their own pace. Wickets were far between and the fact that the target was reached with four balls to spare flattered them.
South Africa can certainly improve, and the chances are they will to some extent at Seddon Park. If they do, are New Zealand strong enough to produce a similar game? Can they be more intense than they were in Wellington?
Form Guide (most recent first)
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South Africa LWLLW
Players to watch …
In the absence of Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers are South Africa's best players of spin. They were dismissed cheaply by terrific fielding efforts in the first game and the rest of the batsmen, apart from Justin Ontong, struggled for fluency against the slow bowlers. How well South Africa tackle New Zealand's spinners will depend on how long Amla and de Villiers bat.
If Martin Guptill scores a fifty at Seddon Park, he will be the fifth batsman to make seven consecutive international half-centuries. His 78 off 55 balls in Wellington, which included a 127-metre six that hit the roof, ensured New Zealand were never in danger during the chase. Before he won the game off his bat, though, Guptill had produced two moments of magic in the field to dismiss Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers. He is easily among the world's best fielders at present.
Allrounder Jacob Oram did not play the first Twenty20 because of a calf injury sustained during the third ODI against Zimbabwe. On the eve of the Wellington game, Brendon McCullum had hoped Oram would be fit to play in Hamilton. If that is the case, Oram could return in place of Colin de Grandhomme. New Zealand are likely to leave Michael Bates and Andrew Ellis on the bench once again.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Rob Nicol, 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Brendon McCullum (capt & wk), 4 Kane Williamson, 5 Colin de Grandhomme/Jacob Oram, 6 James Franklin, 7 Nathan McCullum, 8 Doug Bracewell, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Kyle Mills, 11 Ronnie Hira.
South Africa left out spinner Robin Peterson, and fast bowlers Wayne Parnell and Marchant de Lange from the first game. While it was the batsmen that contributed most to the defeat, the visitors don't have any replacements to call upon in that department. They are unlikely to make a change after one defeat, though if they do, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who conceded 28 in three overs, could make way for Parnell.
South Africa (probable): 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Richard Levi, 3 Colin Ingram, 4 AB de Villiers (capt & wk), 5 JP Duminy, 6 Justin Ontong, 7 Albie Morkel, 8 Johan Botha, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Lonwabo Tsotsobe/Wayne Parnell, 11 Rusty Theron.
Stats and Trivia
- New Zealand have not lost a Twenty20 international at Seddon Park. They have beaten West Indies, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, with the narrowest margin of victory being five wickets.
- A total of 402 runs was scored in the previous Twenty20 at this venue - between New Zealand and Zimbabwe - less than a week ago.
- Brendon McCullum has two half-centuries in three innings at Seddon Park, and a total of 153 runs at a strike-rate of 180. His brother, Nathan, has six wickets in nine overs, and an economy-rate of 5.11.
"It was a huge game for us. Everyone in the country was probably wondering if we could carry on the form from the Zimbabwe series against a higher quality opposition."
Brendon McCullum on the size of the following his team has in New Zealand.
"I feel I made a few mistakes [with field settings] so I take a lot of responsibility for what happened."
AB de Villiers on the defeat in his first away game as South Africa captain .
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo