Cricket Watch

Proteas WC preparations start in New Zealand

Daniel Vettori to boost Black Caps
Daniel Vettori.jpg

South Africa’s ability to adapt quickly to foreign conditions on a relatively unknown ground, the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui, will be pivotal to the outcome of the One Day International (ODI) series against New Zealand during the next week.

South Africa has won nine out of 11 games away from home in ODIs in 2014.
New Zealand’s last ODI-action was in January against India.

AB de Villiers, the South African ODI captain, recently hailed New Zealand as one of the favourites for the 2015 World Cup. He said the combination of familiar conditions and crowd support would make New Zealand even more competitive than they usually were in the one-day format.

"I would not call them dark horses. I would say one of the favourites," de Villiers said on arrival in Auckland for a three-match ODI series.

"They are always a very competitive ODI team. Playing on their home grounds in their country, they'll be even more competitive.

“We know what they are capable of, especially playing in these kinds of conditions. They haven't won a big tournament for a while so they must be very motivated to do well. We are expecting a very competitive series,” De Villiers told the Cricinfo-website.

"[They are] very used to the conditions over here in New Zealand and Australia. They will have a lot of home support with the games here, even in Australia as well. It is a short flight over there. They will have a lot of people right behind them and wanting them to do well. They haven't won a World Cup so they will be desperate to do well."

De Villiers said New Zealand would also be boosted by the probable return of Daniel Vettori, who has been battling injuries and hasn't played an international since the Champions Trophy in June 2013. Vettori was picked in an ODI against Scotland, and took 0 for 43 from ten overs, the first time he bowled that many in a game this year.

De Villiers said he wasn't surprised with Vettori's comeback as New Zealand had been working to get him ready come the World Cup. The inclusion of Vettori will certainly bolster the lower middle-order of New Zealand.

The Kiwi’s look less vulnerable in the middle order than in the previous couple of years with Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi and Vetori at number six, seven and eight.

Ronchi and Anderson are explosive players, but not merely big heavers of the ball. They can play a defensive role if needed against world-class fast bowlers.

South Africa might have the proverbial one eye fixed on the World Cup and focus on one or two potential problem areas.

Their bowling in the death overs and their slightly vulnerable batting unit at number seven or eight must be addressed.

The Proteas death bowling might face a heavy bombardment of boundaries if explosive hitters like Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill and Anderson get opportunity to launch later on in the innings against bowlers who err by bowling length instead of consistent Yorkers.

South Africa has earned their number-2 position in the world rankings of the International Cricket Council, courtesy of magnificent batting by Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy.

Their bowling has also been splendid, thanks partially to the magnificent effort by the leg-spinner Imran Tahir and Ryan McLaren in the middle and Dale Steyn and Morné Morkel up front.

Are there still one or two peripheral positions up for grabs for local players who excel in the domestic Momentum One Day Cup competition currently in progress?

Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott are two members of the current touring squad in New Zealand who might only be offered one opportunity while in Mount Maunganui for the first two ODIs on 21st and 24th October or the third 50-over game on 27th October in Hamilton. They are the reserve-batsman and reserve fast bowler respectively.

Currently, Morné van Wyk of the Sunfoil Dolphins is truly impressing all-comers. He scored two successive centuries in the opening two games of the Momentum One Day Cup competition and averages more than 41 as opening batsman in Limited A-games.

De Kock or Amla are automatic choices for the SA team. Yet, there is no reason why the selectors might not argue that Van Wyk could be an option as a reserve batsman to replace Rossouw. It looks unlikely at this stage, but it is not entirely out of the question.

Lonwabo Tsotsobe has been superb for the bizhub Highveld Lions lately. If he can improve his fitness and fielding, the selectors would be under pressure to include him at Abbott’s expense.

Yet, one cannot simply make a decision based on Tsotsobe’s form. The question must also be asked what role Tsotsobe will play if he returns. Will he be bowling in the first ten overs, or in the death overs?

Ultimately, though, the series in New Zealand is important for the South African tourist not only to retain momentum ahead of the World Cup, but also to familiarise themselves with conditions in the land of the long white cloud ahead of the global showpiece in February and March in Australasia.

If South Africa wins this series and proceeds to dominate Australia Down Under in November, they will be pencilled in as the overwhelming favourites to win the World Cup in 2015.

by Fanie Heyns

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