Getting Guptill will be SA’s focus, until De Villiers gets in …

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Auckland

WHITE men can’t jump, but ye gads can they bat. Martin Guptill proved that in Wellington on Saturday by smashing an undefeated 237 for New Zealand in their World Cup quarter-final against West Indies.

Sachin Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma, twice, Virender Sehwag and Chris Gayle are the other men to have breached what was thought to be an insurmountable barrier before Tendulkar vaulted it against SA five years ago.

“It’s a pretty cool feeling, to be fair,” Guptill said moments after his rampant rip through the Windies bowlers was halted only by the end of New Zealand’s innings.

Hell, yes. Especially as his innings had everything to do with the Kiwis soaring to a total of 393/6. No-one else got to 50, and West Indies were dealt with for 250.

Guptill now becomes the focus of SA’s attention for the semi-final at Eden Park in Auckland on Tuesday.

He is the first New Zealander to score consecutive centuries in the World Cup: Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson have four half-centuries between them. But, before Saturday, New Zealand batted first only once in the tournament, in their first match against Sri Lanka in Christchurch – when they scored 331/6.

Since then, their ace pace attack have kept their chases under 200. Except, that is, when they hunted down 290/7 to beat Bangladesh in Hamilton in their last group match.

On Tuesday, SA’s bowlers will have to find a way to keep the Kiwis quiet on a field that harbours some of the shortest straight boundaries in the game.

On Saturday, Guptill drilled 91 of his runs in those regions, among them eight fours and three sixes. And that on the Cake Tin’s proper oval. What havoc, then, might he wreak on substantially less of a ground on Tuesday?

Especially as New Zealand captain McCullum has warned that all teams who take them on can expect a similarly outrageous approach.

“We want to play that brand of cricket,” McCullum said. “We’ve identified that that’s what’s going to make us a team which is going to be tough to beat. I can’t see that changing – I would hope it doesn’t change.

“Just because there is pressure in a game shouldn’t take you away from what is your best opportunity to win, and the style of cricket we’re playing has obviously served us well.

“But I think it’s safe to assume we’ll still try to play an entertaining and attacking brand of cricket.”

The New Zealanders did exactly that the last time they played at Eden Park, when they dismissed Australia for 151 and watched their chase slide to nine wickets down before they nailed the win.

If they pull that trick against SA, Morne Morkel could make them regret it. Imran Tahir is SA’s leading wicket-taker in the tournament, but at this venue and against these batsmen he could travel. Morkel, who is just one scalp behind the leg spinner, has the pace, bounce and aggression to make the New Zealanders pay if ambition gets the better of their batsmen.

Kyle Abbott replaced the hamstrung Vernon Philander for the fourth time in the quarter-final, and he delivered the goods again. Whether Philander is fit or not on Tuesday, Abbott has earned another crack.

Not that the home side are short of bristling bowlers themselves with Trent Boult as the tournament’s leading strike artist. Tim Southee and Daniel Vettori, meanwhile, offer swing and subtlety.

But no bowlers are safe when AB de Villiers gets it into his head to take on the bowling, and New Zealand will know that is what he will be bent on doing on Tuesday.

“Improvisation,” a taxi driver said a few days ago, “does not come easily to New Zealanders – they just can’t do it.” Too true, and De Villiers improvises so radically even he does not know what he is going to do next.

That is wonderful to have, but frightening to hold. Even so, De Villiers has shown no signs of scaring himself with what he can do at the crease.

Unlike Guptill, he does not have an ODI double hundred. Yet.

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