A quintet of intriguing head-to-head battles will play out within the war, when the Proteas lock horns with their African neighbours in Sunday’s World Cup Group B fixture at Seddon Park in Hamilton.
Hashim Amla v Tinashe Panyangara
Panyangara struck three telling blows during Zimbabwe’s warm-up matches, removing Kane Williamson, Brendon McCullum and Kumar Sangakkara with threatening pace and deceptive lines and lengths. Williamson has enjoyed a tremendous stretch of ODI form since the start of 2014, including three centuries and nine half-tons in 18 innings, while Sangakkara is closing in on a mammoth 28,000 runs in international cricket. Nothing short of outstanding from Panyangara, too, will be required to outdo a cricketer familiar with similarly big numbers. Amla, indeed, is the quickest to reach 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000 ODI runs.
JP Duminy v Sean Williams
The contest between the spinning all-rounders will be witnessed in the balance of the XIs. Williams, admittedly, is more an option with the ball to Zimbabwe than Duminy is to South Africa. Williamson clinched three important wickets and gathered a commanding half-century in victory of Sri Lanka recently, while Duminy’s standalone 80 was the Proteas’ lone saving grace in defeat to the Black Caps. Slower conditions in Hamilton, opposed to the quicker pitches waiting across the Tasman Sea, will play right into their comparable ‘hunter, gatherer’ approaches to batting.
AB de Villiers v Brendan Taylor
One relieved of the wicketkeeping duties but burdened with the captaincy; the other back behind the stumps but free of the skipper’s responsibility. Both, though, effectively designated as their team’s best batsman – and all but tasked with scoring a large part of the final total. De Villiers has been heavily tipped – by fans and pundits alike – to top the World Cup’s run-scoring charts, while Taylor has a seemingly innate ability to score plenty against big opposition – in big tournaments such as this.
Vernon Philander v Elton Chigumbura
The South African is more of a bowling all-rounder, while the Zimbabwean is earmarked as a batting counterpart. Both, though, have more than enough ability to succeed in their lesser code, should their primary role not be enough on the day. Chigumbura’s international career has enjoyed a rejuvenation of sorts since succeeding Taylor as limited-overs captain – and Philander’s bid to break the mould of a ‘Test match specialist’ is paying off. One can anticipate a particularly entertaining clash across the batting Powerplay, when the cavalier Chigumbura and metronomic Philander look to successfully combat each other.
Dale Steyn v Hamilton Masakadza
Masakadza’s match-wining century against the Sri Lankans earlier this week embodied all he is to Zimbabwe cricket: patient, reliable, stoic, successful. Each of these attributes – and more – must step to the fore if Steyn is to be stifled at Seddon Park. The Proteas pace ace sports an ODI bowling average of less than 20 against the Zimbabweans – a full five runs less than his career aggregate. Often rested for bilateral and tri-series against smaller opposition, now is not the time for Steyn to watch a one-off clash as important as the next from the sidelines.