Former Proteas captain Graeme Smith has called New Zealand a ‘very exciting team’ and ‘one that you don’t really want to come up against in a knockout game’.
Smith was speaking, with former India captain Rahul Dravid on ESPN’s Contenders programme ahead of the upcoming Cricket World Cup.
It has to be remembered that in the 2011 World Cup, South Africa breezed into the quarter-finals, where they were stopped in their tracks by the Kiwis in Mirpur. The Proteas restricted New Zealand to 221 (Morne Morkel 3-46) but then folded in their chase, going from 108 for 2 to 171 all out, Jacques Kallis top-scoring with 47.
‘I think they play well in their own conditions. Very, very small grounds and can be difficult to adapt to. But I think that when you look at this side, they’ve built up a really nice one,’ Smith said. \I think New Zealand are certainly a team to look out for in this tournament. A very exciting team and I think a team that other teams will say, “Jeez, I don’t really want to come up against them in a knockout game.”‘
Dravid agreed: ‘I think they’ve got a really, really good pace attack. That’s why you look at them and you think these guys are one of the serious contenders.’
Smith was full of praise for captain Brendon McCallum. ‘ I think he’s doing a great job, he’s brought a new dynamic into that side, a little bit of steeliness and creativity and his own batting seems to have gone up a notch since he’s got the captaincy.’
And both former captains agreed that the rising Kane Williamson was a key player. His game has gone to a new level and I think he’s provided a stability that New Zealand have always lacked,’ Smith said.
Dravid concurred: ‘He’s really creative, he’s got some really good shots. Because he can score quickly without actually looking like he’s taking risks, he’s actually a good classical batsman who is able to find the gaps, hit good cricketing shots, he’s got good consistency as well.’
Smith also spoke of the importance of pace bowler Tim Southee and veteran off-spinner Daniel Vettori.
‘I think [Southee] swings the new ball and bowls very well at the death. His economy rate is high but we keep referring to those small boundaries in New Zealand.
‘[Vettori] is a difficult guy to rotate the strike so he almost squeezes you and squeezes you into making mistakes. [He’s] been a great performer certainly in the short format for a long period of time, had his injuries but I think he’s key for this tournament.’
For a flashback to details of that quarter-final between South Africa and New Zealand in 2011, click below.