The Proteas will face another test of mettle against a combative New Zealand side in Birmingham on Wednesday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Proteas beat Afghanistan by nine wickets on Saturday to record their first win of the tournament. They will need to win their remaining four matches – and they will need a few other results to go their way – to qualify for the semi-finals.
England and India have lived up to their billing as tournament title favourites. As things stand, Australia and New Zealand are also on course to qualify for the playoffs.
New Zealand beat Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but had to share the spoils with India after that match in Nottingham was abandoned due to rain. They’re yet to be tested against a top side at this World Cup.
Whether the Proteas fall into that category or not is up for debate, given their recent performances. These two teams have enjoyed some closely contested battles in recent times, though. The 2015 World Cup semi-final went down to the wire, while the 2017 bilateral series in New Zealand – which was won by South Africa – was decided in the fifth and final game.
TEAM NEWS AND CONDITIONS
Few changes are expected after the Proteas’ recent win against Afghanistan. The return of Lungi Ngidi – who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury – should strengthen the South African attack.
The Proteas need the weather in Birmingham to hold. Showers are forecast for Wednesday morning, but the weather may clear by the time play commences. It will be interesting to see whether the captains look to capitalise on overcast conditions by bowling first.
The only takeaway from the Proteas’ win against Afghanistan is the two log points. The South African bowlers did the damage and the batsmen were set a small target of 127.
Skipper Faf du Plessis said afterwards that it was important for players like Hashim Amla to spend time in the middle. Amla’s performance was anything but convincing, yet he managed to bat through without losing his wicket.
More will be expected from Amla and the top six when they front an aggressive New Zealand side at Edgbaston. New Zealand have a good mix of bowlers and a shrewd captain in Kane Williamson. If the batsmen fail this pressure test, South Africa’s slim hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals will be well and truly dashed.
PLAYER TO WATCH
The Proteas need Amla and Quinton de Kock to set the platform at the top of the order. The openers put on 104 runs for the first wicket in the match against Afghanistan.
The contribution of the middle order, however, is going to be game-shaping. Du Plessis will be the key man in this respect, and he will need two or three players to support him in his quest to post – or chase – a big score.
South Africa have to take the fight to the Kiwis with bat and ball on Wednesday. They have to maintain a high level of intensity throughout the contest if they are to emerge with a crucial win.
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