New Zealand in danger of hitting another slump
March 3, Auckland
Start time 1400 (0100 GMT)
It cannot be easy going in to an international match when two of your team-mates have been dropped for breaching team protocol. It must be even harder when your team has already lost the series without mounting a serious challenge in either of the two matches played. Brendon McCullum and John Wright, New Zealand's captain and coach, have not hidden their disappointment with Doug Bracewell and, in particular, Jesse Ryder.
Both admitted that the incident was a distraction and McCullum went as far as saying he hoped New Zealand Cricket would take the players' disappointment into consideration when deciding what to do with Ryder.
It is an inconvenient time for New Zealand to have off-field misdemeanours interrupting their preparations, as being whitewashed at home would undo a lot of the work they have done recently in repairing their reputation. Just over a year ago New Zealand went on an 11-match losing spree in ODIs and were in danger of moving down into the minnows bracket. A World Cup semi-final and a Test victory in Australia suggested a turnaround, but this home series is followed by an entire year of tours - two in the subcontinent, where they had their dismal streak - followed by a tough home series against England next season. It has now been a four-match losing run for New Zealand (including the Twenty20s) and they will want stop the rut before it escalates.
For South Africa, the match may seem unimportant, but it is their failure to be clinical in matches like this, as much as their crumbles in crunch games, that has prevented them from reaching the top of the rankings in both one-dayers and Tests. Too many times recently South Africa have allowed teams to win the odd game after asserting dominance. The home series against Sri Lanka saw South Africa unexpectedly concede a Test, and then lose two dead rubbers in the ODIs. In the UAE in 2010, a problem-riddled Pakistan seemed to have no chance against a rampant South Africa side, but managed to take the one-day series into a decider. Before that, in 2009, Australia were allowed to win a dead rubber and go away with a respectable series score.
No. 1 teams do not let go of opportunities to crush their opponents. South Africa need to live up to that.
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Watch out for …
The only bowler to trouble Hashim Amla in the second ODI was legspinner Tarun Nethula. The Indian-born Nethula had a catch dropped off his bowling, and one top edge land in between the fielders, before getting the wickets of Amla and JP Duminy. With Daniel Vettori taking a break from ODI cricket, New Zealand need a lead spinner and Nethula could stake his claim. Adding interest to the situation is that Nethula, according to the New Zealand Herald, was with Ryder and Bracewell at the hotel after New Zealand's loss in Napier. He was not banned as, not being injured, he was not breaching protocol, but the fallout of that night out may have shaken him up.
Robin Peterson and Johan Botha have not played together in an ODI since the World Cup. With South Africa saying they will make changes, having won the series, Botha may come in for Albie Morkel, allowing a straight shootout for the spinning allrounder's slot that Peterson now occupies.
With Ryder dropped, 19-year-old Tom Latham is likely to get an opportunity. Latham showed glimpses of class in the three ODIs he played against Zimbabwe in February but will be faced with tougher opposition. Nethula and Nathan McCullum have been the best bowlers in the series but New Zealand have been reluctant to play two spinners, perhaps due to the small grounds. The poor form of the medium-pacers, though, may mean a change in tactics.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Rob Nicol, 3 Brendon McCullum, 4 Kane Williamson, 5 Tom Latham, 6 James Franklin, 7 Andrew Ellis, 8 Kyle Mills 9 Tim Southee, 10 Tarun Nethula, 11 Andy McKay/ Nathan McCullum
Graeme Smith was hit on the arm before the first ODI and the bruising is worse than initially thought, meaning he may miss Saturday's game. AB de Villiers, the South Africa captain, said Smith should probably not have been played in the first ODI. With the series won, South Africa are expected to give Botha and Wayne Parnell a go, with Albie making way and one of the quicks being rested.
South Africa (probable): 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Jacques Kallis, 3 Faf du Plessis 4. AB de Villiers, 5 JP Duminy, 6 Justin Ontong, 7 Johan Botha, 8 Robin Peterson, 9 Wayne Parnell, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe
Pitch and conditions
After the first ODI, Kyle Mills criticised the size of the grounds in New Zealand, saying the short boundaries gave the batsmen an unfair advantage. Eden Park is as small as they come, with the straight boundaries allowing even mis-hits to carry for six. The ground has a drop-in pitch, which should be flat and ideal for batting. A hint of swing with the new ball being the only encouragement for the bowlers. One thing that could help the swing bowlers is that the forecast for Saturday says it will be windy. There is also a slight chance of rain.
Stats and Trivia
- Five of the last seven matches in Auckland have been won by the team batting second
- Martin Guptill has an average of 90.33 at Eden Park with his maiden ODI hundred coming there
- AB de Villiers is 11 runs short of 5000 ODI runs, a milestone that only six other South Africans have reached
"It's a distraction to be honest. We have talked about it, we are over it and we have a big game tomorrow - we are up against a good side."
John Wright, the New Zealand coach, says the incident with Ryder and Bracewell had affected the team
"It's not everyday that you get a chance to whitewash a team away from home, it will be great to win 3-0."
After losing two dead rubbers in their previous series, against Sri Lanka, South Africa doesn't want to slip up this time, says AB de Villiers
Dustin Silgardo is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo