New Zealand v South Africa: A dream semi-final


This is it. New Zealand versus South Africa at the semi-final stage of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup. Brendon McCullum against AB de Villiers. Potential versus performance. Hope against hope. Nerves against the nervous. Neither country has ever won a World Cup semi-final. One of them will go to the summit for the first time. Who will blink first?

Behind McCullum’s New Zealand is a nation that has backed this team from well before the tournament began, and whose anticipation and belief has increased with every win. Behind de Villiers’ South Africa are passionate supporters who somewhere inside feel that this is their year. Not all of them will admit it, but they do feel something different about this team.

New Zealand are, of course, unbeaten in the World Cup. In their last game, Saturday’s quarter-final in Wellington, they had Martin Guptill score the second-highest individual score in ODI history. They are pumped, confident, brimming with positivity. Their captain’s leadership is infectious; contagious even, as Stephen Fleming put it. Tim Southee and Trent Boult (the leading wicket-taker in the tournament) have been hailed as on course to be New Zealand’s greatest new-ball pairing. Daniel Vettori, apart from the last match, has been economical, accurate and successful. And when he had an off day with the ball, he plucked the catch of the tournament.

The team has been dented by the ruling out of tearaway quick Adam Milne, as McCullum and the coach Mike Hesson admitted on Monday, but the confidence remains high. The hunger has not diminished. McCullum believes his team can still keep rolling.

“I sort of find that being too stressed out doesn’t help that much, so might as well just relax and look forward to the opportunity to go out there and represent your country again tomorrow in obviously a really big game,” he said. “It’s a great stage to be a part of. It’s what you play the game for, all the trainings that you do all the time away from home, all the hard work and sacrifice that you make. This is what you do it for, so we’ve got that opportunity tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to it. The boys are pretty excited.”

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