New Zealand and South Africa will meet in Auckland on Tuesday with the chance to cast history aside and book a place in the 2015 Cricket World Cup final. Between them, the two countries have appeared in nine previous semifinals -- New Zealand six and South Africa three -- yet have always failed to make it one match further.
For New Zealand, the reputation has been one of nearly men -- often impressing as an under the radar team, but never quite good enough to make that next step. But as one of the co-hosts this time around and with a lineup stacked with talent, the country is teeming with anticipation that this will be the event that changes.
So far they have won all seven matches, having followed up a clean sweep of their group, including a win over Australia, with a demolition of the West Indies in the quarterfinals. That latest victory featured the highest score in World Cup history with Martin Guptill hitting 237 not out. His fellow opener has impressed, too. Brendon McCullum has led the way, both with his captaincy and with his aggressive run-getting at the top of the order. And he is adamant that the team’s positive approach won’t change, despite the pressure of the occasion at Eden Park.
“The way we’ve been playing has been an exciting brand of cricket, as well,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “Just because it’s a pressure game you shouldn’t change that, that’s out greatest chance of success, we know that. For us to compete against big teams on a regular basis and for us to win world cups and crunch games we need to remain true to that. I believe that’s our most authentic style of cricket, it’s one that serves us well and I wouldn’t expect that to change tomorrow.”
One thing that will have to change for New Zealand, though, is their lineup. Bowler Adam Milne has been ruled out for the rest of the World Cup after suffering a heel injury. South Africa, meanwhile, have a fully fit squad to choose from after coming through a potentially tough quarterfinal against Sri Lanka last Wednesday in an emphatic nine-wicket win.
Despite entering the tournament as one of the leading favorites, South Africa’s progress has been less smooth than their opponents, however. Defeats to India and Pakistan -- the latter at Eden Park -- raised concerns, although they have also posted mammoth scores in excess of 400 against both the West Indies and Ireland. Captain AB de Villiers, ranked as the No.1 batsman in the world in One-Day International has unsurprisingly top scored so far, with 417.
Throughout the competition, though, he has faced questions about South Africa’s reputation as “chokers.” There have been some spectacular disappointments in the past, including two for which De Villiers was a part. A heavy defeat in the semifinals to Australia in 2007 was followed by a woeful loss to New Zealand in the quarterfinals four years ago. But the 31-year-old is far keener to focus on the opportunity to claim a spot in the final against either Australia or India, as well as the fact that South Africa have won the last five ODIs played between the countries in New Zealand.
“There has been a lot of emphasis on our past, and South Africa not doing well at World Cups,” he said. “I’ve gone through the whole package of feeling emotional about it, fighting against it, accepting it and then fighting again. I’m not putting emphasis on that in this World Cup at all. I’m the guy who’s got to answer those questions and I don’t mind doing that.
“We’ve got good confidence coming here tomorrow. We’ve played some good cricket in New Zealand, in the last five ODIs we’ve come out on top, that’s all we’re focusing on now. Not too much emphasis on what happened here in the Pakistan game, or what happened in 2011, 2007. The most important day for us is tomorrow and we’re very confident.”
Match time: Tuesday, 2 p.m. local time. Monday, 9 p.m. EDT.
TV channel: DISH Network, Mediacom and Time Warner Cable subscribers can watch all matches via pay per view. More info here.
Live streaming info: New Zealand vs. South Africa, as well as all remaining matches will be available via ESPN's digital subscription service, costing $39.99.