South Africa and New Zealand have plenty of game-breakers in their teams heading into the World Cup semi-finals. We pick five key battles which will determine the result.
1. AB de Villiers vs Daniel Vettori
South Africa’s most inventive batsman, whose shot selection and stroke play is lined with premeditation and merited choices, will relish a stiff challenge against the wile and guile of New Zealand’s veteran spinner. Entering the twilight of a relatively prolific limited-overs career, Vettori has retained several tricks and variations which could flummox De Villiers. The joint-leading wicket-taker among the spinners – alongside Imran Tahir – at this year’s World Cup, Vettori should enjoy threatening purchase off the Eden Park pitch. De Villiers, though, will be meticulously aware of the short boundaries square of the wicket, while the ropes in the long-on and -off region aren’t much further.
2. Vernon Philander/Kyle Abbott vs Brendon McCullum
Protocol effectively wouldn’t allow De Villiers to confirm South Africa’s starting XI during Monday’s pre-match conference, but several comments alluded to Philander replacing Kyle Abbott. Philander has been dogged by injury throughout the World Cup, but proved characteristically solid in fixtures against India, Zimbabwe and United Arab Emirates. His presence would extend the batting order, too, and all doubters would do well to remember the pivotal half-century scored against the Black Caps in February’s tournament warm-up fixture in Christchurch. A particularly tough task awaits against McCullum, whose bid to uproot the metronomic Philander’s trademark ‘fourth stump’ line will be evidential early. If Abbott is retained, though, the old death-bowling date will receive a fillip, and Morne Morkel can duly be held back as the key first-change bowler.
3. Dale Steyn vs Martin Guptill
The depths of New Zealand’s batting order reach beyond Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and McCullum after all, as Guptill displayed with a magnificent double-century against West Indies in the quarter-final. The hard-hitting opener, whose average for the Kiwis’ last three matches is a smidgeon under 200, has timed the big contributions perfectly – and Steyn has effectively done the same. The Proteas pace ace has had a relatively quiet World Cup wickets-wise, but the fire and so-called ‘crazy eyes’ were awoken in the quarter-final against Sri Lanka. That removal of Tillakaratne Dilshan seemed to be a tipping point, pledging plenty of venom from Steyn come Tuesday’s intriguing decider.
4. JP Duminy vs Corey Anderson
Brimming with renewed confidence on the back of a hat-trick against the Sri Lankans last week, Duminy is of greater importance with the ball than ever. He will, little doubt, be targeted – and Anderson’s arrival at the crease might be reveal some telling truths. A World Cup semi-final is exactly the juncture to expose hidden shortfalls collected through the group stage; South Africa’s lack of a genuine fifth bowler – or at least an additional seamer – might still unhinge this campaign. Anderson has caned would-be spinners to all corners on several occasions, but the Proteas should not shy away from the script. The off-spinner might just turn one straight past the advancing left-hander’s bat during the middle overs.
5. Hashim Amla vs Trent Boult
Boult needs just two more wickets to overtake Geoff Allott as New Zealand’s leading World Cup wicket-taker. One of several well-documented left-arm fast bowlers at the 2015 event, the 25-year-old has arguably been set apart by generating the most swing and seam. Pitching the ball up to allow it as much time as possible to move laterally has proven very successful, but could be thwarted by a patient right-hander entirely adept at combating the threat with outstanding cover drives and exquisite on-drives. Successive failures against Sri Lanka and United Arab Emirates demand prompt correction from Amla, whose calming influence will also hopefully settle a nervy Quinton de Kock in Auckland.