Big picture – Not a must-win, but a win-for-momentum
It started with a World Cup quarter-final that turned into a proper scrap ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/new-zealand-v-south-africa-mills-vettori-and-du-plessis-fined-508097) in Mirpur in 2011. It marked the arrival of a cricket rivalry that isn’t talked about a lot, but often gives us games that ain’t good for the heart – just like the rugby World Cup final from a few nights ago.
Auckland 2015 ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/icc-cricket-world-cup-2014-15-509587/new-zealand-vs-south-africa-1st-semi-final-656491/full-scorecard) and Birmingham 2019 ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/icc-cricket-world-cup-2019-1144415/new-zealand-vs-south-africa-25th-match-1144507/full-scorecard), the two most recent men’s ODI World Cup fixtures since the rivalry sprung to life, were both thrillers of different kinds. One a semi-final with everything on the line, and the other a league fixture, like Wednesday’s will be. This one will dictate how the top half of the points table ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/icc-cricket-world-cup-2023-24-1367856/points-table-standings) shapes up heading into the last bit of the league stage.
All told, for three straight men’s World Cups in a row, the New Zealand games have been must-wins for South Africa; in fact, South Africa have lost five World Cup games in a row ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/stats/index.html?class=2;filter=advanced;opposition=5;orderby=start;orderbyad=reverse;team=3;template=results;trophy=12;type=team;view=results) to New Zealand. In Pune on Wednesday, the stakes aren’t as high, given both teams are still pretty comfortably placed for the semi-finals, but it’s one both sides will want to win for momentum’s sake at the very least.
New Zealand endured back-to-back losses to India and Australia as their smooth sail of a campaign – they had started with four wins on the trot – hit a rough patch amid a growing list of niggles. South Africa have been gung-ho, proving their only loss – to Netherlands – was an aberration, their batting depth looking increasingly menacing and bowling effective enough, as they were expected to be.
Their one-wicket win over Pakistan ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/icc-cricket-world-cup-2023-24-1367856/pakistan-vs-south-africa-26th-match-1384417/full-scorecard) in Chennai the other night saved them from that dreaded word that had begun doing the rounds even as their lower order collapsed, before Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi saw them home. A favourable result in Pune will further underpin their status as one of the dominant teams at this World Cup. That they aren’t great chasers, though, is a suggestion they haven’t been able to dispel.
Results and all that aside, the match promises an explosive cocktail of firepower with the bat, and thrill with the ball. There’s aesthetics in the form of Devon Conway, Rachin Ravindra and Rassie van der Dussen, big-hitting from Henrich Klaasen, David Miller and Glenn Phillips, and the genius of Quinton de Kock to boot.
With the ball, there’s pace royalty in the form of Kagiso Rabada, the swing of Trent Boult, the hustle of Gerald Coetzee, a,d the bounce of Marco Jansen – each of them brings a unique flavour that makes fast bowling thrilling. If all of them play, it’ll truly mark a spectacle.
Now for a good pitch and great weather to make it all come together.
New Zealand LLWWW (Last five completed ODIs, most recent first) South Africa WWWLW
In the spotlight – Temba Bavuma and Rachin Ravindra
In a top order that has mostly been in top gear, Temba Bavuma ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/temba-bavuma-372116) seems some sort of a weak link at the moment for South Africa. He has had starts in three of his four innings, but hasn’t been able to top 35. As such, Bavuma is an accumulator, but has seemed anxious at different times to break out of that mould. It hasn’t worked yet. While there is no threat to his captaincy, he’ll want a big score to feel a bit more at ease.
Will he? Won’t he? Kane Williamson has walked around with more questions on his fitness and participation during this campaign than he has at any other point in his career. It’s not clear if he is fit yet, but in his absence, Rachin Ravindra ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/rachin-ravindra-959767) has made the No. 3 spot his own. Williamson’s presence as part of the leadership group has lent a lot of calm and tactical nous, but he would be itching to return and make an impact. As for Ravindra, he is already making plenty of it.
Kagiso Rabada ^(https://lotus365.today/goto/https://www.espncricinfo.com/cricketers/kagiso-rabada-550215) missed the previous game because of a niggle, but is understood to be fit and is expected to return to the XI. That’ll mean South Africa will be left with a tricky call on whom to leave out. Gerald Coetzee and Tabraiz Shamsi both had important roles to play in their win over Pakistan in Chennai, but one of them will probably have to make way, depending on the pitch.
South Africa (probable): 1 Temba Bavuma (capt), 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Rassie van der Dussen, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 Heinrich Klaasen, 6 David Miller, 7 Marco Jansen, 8 Keshav Maharaj, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Gerald Coetzee/Tabraiz Shamsi, 11 Lungi Ngidi
New Zealand have an injury list that’s slowly growing. Lockie Ferguson bowled all of three overs before walking off with a heel injury against Australia. Mark Chapman is recovering from a minor calf strain. Tim Southee was on the mend for a broken finger, but might be ready to return. Then there’s Williamson, of course. New Zealand’s training on match eve, and Tom Latham’s press conference, gave very little away.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Will Young, 2 Devon Conway, 3 Rachin Ravindra, 4 Tom Latham (capt, wk), 5 Daryl Mitchell, 6 Glenn Phillips, 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Jimmy Neesham, 9 Matt Henry, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Tim Southee/Lockie Ferguson
Pitch and conditions
Pune is unusually hot and dry for this time of the year, but the surfaces have been good for batting, with even bounce and excellent carry. In the two games so far, dew hasn’t had too big an effect, but it should be humid. The toss might not be too big a factor if the dew stays away.
Stats and trivia
Conway has been dismissed twice in six games by left-arm spin at this World Cup. South Africa have Maharaj in the mix. In all, Conway has hit 17 runs off the 21 balls from bowlers of this variety. It’s only a small sample size but worth looking out for nonetheless, especially given that he loves the sweep shot, and Pune has relatively bigger squares.
Ravindra’s tally of 406 runs is already the most by a New Zealander in his maiden World Cup. The standout aspect has been his game against spin – he has scored 210 against them at a strike rate of 109. His eight sixes are the most against spinners in the tournament so far.
South Africa’s seven 300-plus totals in a row batting first in ODIs – including four this World Cup – is the longest streak in the game. They have hit the most sixes and fours, and have the most hundreds (six) in the tournament.
South Africa’s pace pack has taken 44 wickets at an average and a strike rate of 23.3 and 23.5, respectively. Their wickets tally and their bowling strike rate are the best for a team in this World Cup.
“We’ve got a few guys to get through a few fitness tests, and I guess once we train, we’ll have a clearer idea of what the XI looks like. So fingers crossed all those guys can get through a bit of work today at training and be ready to go tomorrow.” Injuries have been a major concern for Tom Latham
“It feels like that question could have been asked a few days ago as well – with regards to Pakistan. So no, no chat really about that. I mean, that’s all in the past. We don’t really carry any of that with us.” Rassie van der Dussen isn’t thinking about South Africa’s five ODI World Cup losses in a row to New Zealand
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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