BIRMINGHAM – There is a rich narrative of sporting contests involving South Africa and New Zealand. Customarily, they have involved an oval ball.
But in recent times clashes between the Proteas and Black Caps on the cricket field have been equally intoxicating. Today at Edgbaston they are set to add the latest instalment.
If it is anything like the last time these two teams met at a World Cup, that epic semi-final four years ago at Eden Park, the patrons who are set to brave another chilly day in the United Kingdom will be in for a real treat.
South Africa are undeniably the underdogs. They have stuttered through the World Cup, only registering their first point due to a washed out game against the West Indies before beating tournament whipping boys Afghanistan last Saturday.
Meanwhile, New Zealand are shaping up as the early front-runners.
They duly took care of business in their first three matches before rain ruined their 100% record when their match against India was abandoned. Their top order is firing and their seam bowlers are in red-hot form.
It’s the latter that has been particularly effective, with New Zealand being the only team to dismiss each opponent they have encountered so far. New Zealand opening bowler Trent Boult could have not stated it better, when he said: “We’ve put the ball where we wanted.”
With conditions not expected to aide seam and swing as much as at previous venues, despite it expected to be gloomy at Edgbaston once again, Boult is wary of a wounded Proteas team.
“They had a tough start to the tournament. Not the ideal start. We’re looking forward to facing them, and I’m sure they’re eager and hungry to put in a good performance because it’s a big one for them,” Boult said.
Boult’s battle with the South African openers Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla will once again be crucial to the outcome of the all-important clash. He was the victor four years ago at Eden Park, accounting for both Amla and De Kock. The latter, though, is relishing a chance to turn the tables on a familiar foe.
“We know what we’re going to get. It’s not like we don’t know what we’re up against. We know exactly what we’re up against. So the emphasis is on the whole game, not just about bat and ball up front,” De Kock said.
With De Kock and Amla also sharing South Africa’s first 100-run partnership last Saturday in Cardiff, the old firm seem to be finding their touch just when it is needed most.
“We obviously had a relationship break for a little while,” De Kock chirped. “But it’s good to be batting with him (Amla) again. We rely on each other a lot out there. I think we complement each other really well, the way we go about things. Yeah, it’s just good to be batting with him again.”
South Africa will be hoping for more than just their opening partnership to hit the right notes today. They simply don’t have any other choice, for it is only a victory that will keep the Proteas afloat at the World Cup.
Likely teams for Edgbaston:
South Africa (possible):
Quinton de Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis (capt), Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Imran Tahir.
New Zealand (possible):
Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Kane Williamson (capt), Ross Taylor, Tom Latham (wk), James Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme/Ish Sodhi, Mitchell Santner, Matt Henry, Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult.