First Semi Final – 12:00 pm AEDT on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 at Eden Park, Auckland
New Zealand – $2.05 at Luxbet.com
South Africa – $1.83 at William Hill
The first of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup semifinals sees both New Zealand and South Africa looking to seal a spot in the decider for the very first time.
The Kiwis can do no wrong on their second time co-hosting the event. After an undefeated run in the group stage, they trounced the West Indies by 143 runs in the first knockout round to silence any doubts over their status as genuine contenders for the title.
While much of New Zealand’s success has been attributed to an incisive bowling attack and the aggressive tactics of Brendon McCullum, it was the captain’s batting partner who set the Westpac Stadium on fire on Saturday.
Martin Guptill’s place in the World Cup squad was less than certain leading into the tournament. That seems hard to fathom after the 28-year-old opener smashed a record-breaking 237 not out as the hosts posted 6 for 393.
And, for once, the Kiwi bowling unit took quite a bit of stick – besides the superb Trent Boult, whose 4 for 44 puts him atop the tournament wicket-taking charts. The next best was Daniel Vettori (2 for 58 off 6.3 overs), despite the in-form spinner being belted out of the attack early by Chris Gayle.
Yes, some desperate hitting from the Windies played its part, but the overriding feeling from Saturday evening was that most of the New Zealand bowlers took their feet off the gas knowing that 393 would be enough to get the job done.
That kind of attitude will not suffice against a raging South African side looking to bury more than two decades of disappointment with a long-awaited debut in the Cricket World Cup final.
The Proteas made short work of Sri Lanka on Wednesday, sending off the retiring superstars Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene in cruel fashion with a clinical nine-wicket victory – South Africa’s first in the knockout stages of the World Cup.
Remarkably, it wasn’t the fearsome pace attack of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott that cleaned up the Lankans for just 133, but the unheralded spin duo of Imran Tahir and hat-trick hero Jean-Paul Duminy.
A lack of quality slow-bowling options has been Sth Africa’s big weakness ever since they rejoined the international circuit in 1992, but Tahir has been both dangerous and economical while leading his adopted nation’s World Cup bowling stats with 15 wickets at an average of just 18.86.
Also significant about that comfortable quarter final win was that it gave struggling opener Quinton de Kock the chance for a pressure-free stint in the middle. The wicketkeeper grasped the opportunity with both hands as he cruised to an unbeaten 78 – his first half-century of the tournament.
Of course, AB de Villiers and Co. aren’t exactly light on batting power; the captain himself has starred throughout the series, while Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis are among the most consistent ODI run-makers on the planet. Rilee Rossouw, David Miller and Duminy complete what is widely regarded as the most impressive batting line-up in the tournament.
For all the willow-wielding ability on both sides, many feel this semifinal contest is destined to be a battle of the ball – in large part, no doubt, because it was at Eden Park that New Zealand scraped a legendary one-wicket win in the group phase after bowling Australia out for just 151.
But it was also the scene of South Africa’s shock loss to Pakistan, where the pace trio of Mohammed Irfan, Rahat Ali and Wahab Riaz exploited the enigmatic (and slightly rain-affected) Auckland pitch to roll the Proteas over for just 202.
Those results will surely be at forefront of both teams’ minds ahead of Tuesday’s clash. There is also the small matter of their most recent meeting in the 50-over World Cup, when New Zealand stunned a dominant South African outfit at the knockout stage of the 2011 edition.
Much has been made of the fact neither team has ever won a World Cup semifinal, but New Zealand coach Mike Hesson was adamant that there would be no demons in either dressing room this time around.
“I don’t think there’s any baggage with anyone,” Hesson told the press on Monday.
“It’s a one-off game and we’re all desperate to be at the big party and I’m sure we’ll both turn up.
“Two sides are playing good cricket and it’s going to be a heck of a show.”
– Having just returned from a shoulder problem, New Zealand speedster Adam Milne has now been ruled out of the tournament with a heel injury. Matt Henry has replaced him in the squad and will duke it out with Mitchell McClenaghan and Kyle Mills for the third seamer’s spot. Expect no other changes to the NZ XI.
– Dale Steyn seemed to struggle with a neck problem early in the quarterfinal against Sri Lanka, but he continued bowling and should be fully fit for the semis. The only question for South Africa is whether the fit-again Vernon Philander will partner Steyn with the new ball. Kyle Abbott has done little wrong in his stead, taking nine wickets at 14.44, but the selectors may prefer Philander’s extra movement on an Eden Park wicket which has rewarded full-length bowling this tournament.
New Zealand: Brendon McCullum (C), Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi, Daniel Vettori, Tim Southee, Mitchell McClenaghan, Trent Boult
South Africa: AB de Villiers (C), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Rilee Rossouw, David Miller, JP Duminy, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir
Most match sixes: South Africa – $2.45 at CrownBet
Highest opening partnership: South Africa – $1.97 at CrownBet.com.au
The romantic in us all is willing New Zealand on here, but you can’t ignore the top-to-bottom strength of the South African side. You know it’s a tough one to call when SA are slight favourites to win, but NZ are paying short odds to hit more sixes for the match. The opening partnership betting is especially tight; most online bookmakers have both sides even at $1.90 each, but CrownBet is offering a bit more on Amla and de Kock to outscore McCullum and Guptill. We’re tipping the Saffers to break the hoodoo, but you could flip a coin on most of the match betting markets for this one.
Top batsman betting markets
Martin Guptill ($5.00 at Luxbet) – Even after his momentous double-century against the West Indies, Guptill is offering better odds than his opening partner at most online sports books. Having backed him in for the quarterfinals, we’re sticking with our man here. And after sequential innings of 57, 105 and 237 not out, surely a triple ton (or better) in the semis is the only logical conclusion…
Brendon McCullum ($4.33 at Bet365) – Though he missed out in the quarters and is yet to notch a hundred for the tournament, the Kiwi captain is universally favoured to top score for his side against South Africa. A fierce leader who loves the big stage, McCullum is just the kind of player you would expect to pull out his best in this scenario.
Hashim Amla ($4.25 at William Hill Australia) – As with McCullum, the bookmakers and the punters seem to think South Africa’s star opener is due for a big one. The stats show that when Amla plays well, the Proteas usually win – so if you’re backing one, throwing a few bucks on the other is probably a good idea.
AB de Villiers ($4.50 at Sportsbet.com.au) – It’s safe to say that de Villiers is a lead-by-example type of captain. If he is to skipper the South Africans to their first ever Cricket World Cup final, chances are he will have a very big hand in getting them there. He is the best cricketer in the world right now, so anything over $4 for AB to top score is pretty tasty.
Top tips for most wickets
Trent Boult – With 19 wickets at 14.63 runs a piece, Boult has been the most prolific bowler of World Cup 2015. He was the only member of the much-lauded New Zealand attack to keep things tight when the Windies went for the tonk in Wellington, while his last visit to Auckland produced a devastating 5 for 27 against Australia. Most bookie sites have Boult at around $3, so anything above that is good value.
Daniel Vettori ($5.00 at CrownBet.com.au) – At the tender age of 36, New Zealand’s evergreen all-rounder has rediscovered some of his very best form with the ball in hand. Vettori’s left-arm spin has returned 15 World Cup wickets at an impressive economy rate of 3.81, even after suffering some heavy blows in the quarterfinal win over the West Indies. He was especially effective last time out at Eden Park against the Aussies, and another performance like that could see him figure prominently if Boult decides to be a good lad and share a few wickets around.
Dale Steyn ($4.33 at Sportsbet Australia) – South Africa’s main man has been building towards a big World Cup performance which has yet to materialise. His quarterfinal figures of 1 for 18 don’t do justice to the kind of venom Steyn was throwing at the Sri Lankan top order before the spinners came in cleaned up. He should be relishing the prospect of bowling on a wicket where quality seam bowling has paid big dividends throughout the tourney.
Imran Tahir– Few would have tipped a spinner to top South Africa’s wicket-taking table at the 2015 Cricket World Cup, but their Pakistani-born leggy is on track to do just that. With 4 for 26 against Sri Lanka and 5 for 45 in the group-stage mauling of the West Indies, Tahir has shown he can take bags in big games. The question is whether he can be quite so prolific away from the SCG.