22 Players. 2 Teams. 2 Captains. 1 Match to be won. 22 Kiwis and South Africans will step on the field today at Eden Park, Auckland – all of them hoping that when the moment of reckoning comes, all their hours of hard work and the skill that has set them apart from millions of others aspiring to represent their country, will help them take their team to the World Cup finals. No other teams have had to face the tragedy of not making the most of such moments as the Nations represented by the two teams that take the field for the first semifinal at this World Cup.
The good news for both the teams is that Cricket is a team game and unlike individual games where the burden of an entire career rests on an individual, team games have a constant change of personnel and that means a fresher set of resources to tackle the problems.Though both these teams have never been in the final of a World Cup, the perception of each team among Cricket aficionados couldn’t have been more different. South Africa have always been the poster boys of under achievement in global events in Cricket. This is a position they have been in before and each and every time they have been expected to put an end to the trend, they have come up short.
New Zealand on the other hand have more often than not, defied the expectations of many to reach the final four. Though they have not breached the semifinals stage, most Cricket fans have traditionally viewed New Zealand as a team that is more than sum of its parts. This time, however, most of the pundits expect them to make that leap – not only into the finals, but go all the way to a title. So far, the Kiwis have done everything they can to show that such an expectation is justified. They have not just won matches, but did so in a manner and style that has opponents on the back foot, even before the match starts.
Ironically, South Africa who have always failed to live up to the expectations of analysts and fans, may have already exceeded expectations in the manner in which they recorded their first victory in knock out matches.They will be playing with house money from here on and should they get knocked out in either the semifinals or the finals, most observers will view their efforts as one where progress has been made. The other side of the argument is that South Africa will be keen to make this opportunity count and make sure they can put in a few more performances to make sure they get rid of this criticism – once and for all.
New Zealand have definitely looked the more impressive team, stamping their authority on the match and the opponents in decisive fashion and they will be looking to continue their uber aggressive game plan to put South Africa on the back foot at the earliest. New Zealand have the arsenal to go after South Africa – either with their batting, led by the Captain himself Brendon McCullum or with the bowling, lead by the swing, pace and bounce of Southee and Trent Boult. South Africa have, at their disposal, enough firepower of their own to counter the Kiwis. The big question will be about the intent, though. Are South Africa willing to take New Zealand on at their own game and play a super aggressive game that is, in some sense,
The answer could very well be the difference between the team that makes it to the final and the one that doesn’t.
Prediction: New Zealand should continue to impose their game on
–Prakash Potukuchi [ aka Roger Laver is the founder of Sportz Cosmos. He tweets here.]