Why canny Kiwis will test SA

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

DO you remember the climax of the last one-day international South Africa played in New Zealand? Better question: will you ever forget what remains as raw as a razorblade in your memory?

There goes Dale Steyn, ball in hand, intense as a black mamba cutting a speedy swathe through metre-high grass, steaming in to bowl.

There stands Grant Elliot, focused, bat hovering with intent, awaiting fate.

And there goes the white dot that holds that fate, following the arc of Elliott’s conquering bat, into the night sky like a comet, roared all the way over and beyond the short straight boundary by a crowd dressed to match the starlit blackness above.

It was Eden Park. It was March 24, 2015. It was the World Cup semi-final. It was a hell of a game.

The 10 members of the World Cup squad who are on their way to New Zealand as part of the group who will play the Kiwis in a T20, at the same Eden Park, on Friday and five one-day internationals, the first of them in Hamilton next Sunday, would agree with that.

As would the conspicuous absentees: Steyn, who is on the mend from his fractured shoulder, and Elliott, who has retired from the international scene.

The T20 will serve as a warm-up for the ODIs, which assume greater importance with the Champions Trophy in England lurking less than four months hence.

South Africa have played five games in the format against Sri Lanka and will have three more bites at the ODI cherry against England in England in May, but they will have their best preparation for the Champions Trophy against New Zealand.

That holds in terms of the conditions, which promise to be more English than those South Africa have played in since the 2015 World Cup semi-final.

They have been to Asia, West Indies and Australia and, of course, played at home. New Zealand’s pitches, then, should be closer to the truth of the Champions Trophy.

Then there’s the opposition, the canniest critters in the game, a side who win with cleverness and chutzpah where sides like South Africa and Australia favour clout and clamour.

The Kiwis have shown exactly that by resting captain Kane Williamson, Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Mitchell Santner from this weekend’s List A domestic games.

They have given themselves the breathing space to do so by winning all eight completed short-format games they have played since Boxing Day.

“We’ve had a lot of guys come in and out due to injury and most of the guys who have come in have been able to deliver straightaway and it’s a good sign for us,” New Zealand coach Mike Hesson told reporters there.

“Also that we don’t rely on only one or two players which some other sides around the world do. It’s important for us that we continue to develop depth in all forms and we are starting to.”

Neil Broom, for instance, scored 73 against an Australian attack studded with Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and James Faulkner in an ODI at Eden Park last month.

Six days later in Hamilton, Dean Brownlie made 63 to help New Zealand seal that series. 

“They’re well led, they’re organised and they’re very intelligent cricketers,” Robin Peterson said. “And they always seem to be way tougher in New Zealand than when you play them anywhere else.”

Don’t we just know it.

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