TELFORD VICE, Auckland
CALLING SA’s World Cup semi-final On Tuesday a match of biblical proportions risks accusations of grandiosity. Until, that is, you consider what Faf du Plessis said almost 10 weeks ago.
“In my perfect world I would like to play New Zealand in the semi-final and have that same situation arise again,” Du Plessis said when SA’s World Cup squad was announced.
“This time, it will be the other way around. We’ll be the team that’s on top, and we can do the same to them.”
The world according to Faf, then, is prophesy made perfect: SA are indeed playing New Zealand in their semi, which is due to start at Eden Park in Auckland at 3am (SA time) on Tuesday.
The “situation” is what Du Plessis calls the “argy-bargy” that erupted during the teams’ 2011 World Cup quarter-final in Dhaka.
An on-field confrontation between Du Plessis and Kyle Mills was triggered by verbals that flew in the wake of AB de Villiers’ runout as SA, not for the first time, cracked under pressure.
“That moment taught me a lot about myself,” Du Plessis said. “I had always thought I enjoyed a challenge, but after that day I knew that I enjoyed a challenge.”
And a challenge SA and the rest of SA’s team will have on their hands as they take on unbeaten opponents in front of the most rabidly supportive crowd in the country.
Before Wednesday, the hesitant money was on SA losing to Sri Lanka in the quarter-finals. Instead, they dominated to claim their first ever victory in a knockout match at the tournament. On Sunday, the smart money – the bookies, if you like – were predicting a SA-Australia final.
That would suit David Miller just fine, but for now he is happy with the way things are.
“New Zealand are playing really well; we’re playing really well,” Miller said on Sunday. “To play a semi-final is going to be out of this world.
“If they’re going to come out firing, just absorb as much as you can and counter-attack.
“It’s the unknown. It’s a very exciting time: in eight days we could be world champions. But it’s one step at a time and take things as slowly as they come. The rest will be history.”
SA’s first visit to Eden Park during the World Cup, to play Pakistan on March 7, ended unhappily – less because they lost by 29 runs than the fact that, chasing just 232 in 47 overs, they should have won.
Miller was dismissed for a duck. He wants to make amends on what is a rugby field impersonating a cricket ground, which shortens the straight boundaries.
“Hopefully I can mishit a few straight sixes,” he said as his eyes lit up at the prospect of unleashing his penchant for straight hitting on the Kiwi bowlers.
“It does change your gameplan, and I expect the guys are going to bowl a shorter length. It’s just something you’ve got to get used to.”
That and the fact that victory On Tuesday would put SA in the World Cup final. The same prize glints for New Zealand.
Consider that neither of these teams have gone that deep in the tournament before and that both are looking to rid themselves of reputations for choking.
And that having AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn in one dugout and Martin Guptill and Trent Boult in the other pits the most aggressive batsmen in the tournament against the most aggressive bowlers. In a word, perfect.
Eden Park ODIs – 71 (February, 1976 – March, 2015)
Highest total: 340/5 (New Zealand v Australia – February 18, 2007)
Lowest total: 73 (New Zealand v Sri Lanka – January 6, 2007)
Highest score: Glenn Turner 140 (New Zealand v Sri Lanka – March 20, 1983)
Best bowling: Mitchell Starc 6/28 (Australia v New Zealand – February 28, 2015)
SA v New Zealand in World Cups
P6 W2 L4 (1992 – 2011)
For: 306/6 (Wanderers – February 16, 2003)
Against: 229/1 (Wanderers – February 16, 2003)
For: 172 (Dhaka – March 25, 2011)
Against: 177/2 (Faisalabad – February 20, 1996)
For: Herschelle Gibbs 143 (Wanderers – February 16, 2003)
Against: Stephen Fleming 134 not out (Wanderers – February 16, 2003)
For: Allan Donald 3/34 (Faisalabad – February 20, 1996)
Against: Jacob Oram 4/39 (Dhaka – March 25, 2011)