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NZvSA: The 5 Key Match-Ups that will decide the 1st Semi-Final

[vc_row][vc_column width="1/1"][vc_column_text]Naman Trivedi Ahmedabad / Eden Park: The combatants are New Zealand and South Africa, the battlefield is Eden Park and the prize is a place in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 final. Both teams are in brilliant form, boasting line-ups packed with potential match-winners. Ultimately, which team boards a flight to Melbourne on Wednesday could rest on the outcomes of battles between key players. Here are the five key match-ups for New Zealand’s crunch semi-final clash against South Africa. Whichever side can win the most of these will be given a shot at glory on Sunday at the MCG. 1. AB de Villiers v Daniel Vettori SA The world’s number one ODI batsman, AB de Villiers is just about the biggest scalp in cricket right now. The South Africa captain leads his team’s batting statistics in every category and getting his wicket early is a must for New Zealand. De Villiers is freakishly talented, quick on his feet, possesses a seemingly endless array of shots and appears to have no fear when batting. He has been at his best in this tournament coming in with a good base already set up top-order batsman Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis – the perfect example being his unbeaten 162 in Sydney when he was handed a perfect start to launch from – so getting early wickets and forcing de Villiers in earlier than expected could be the key for New Zealand. Good fielding is also crucial when it comes to de Villiers. More than 11 per cent of his dismissals have been run outs, and the skipper is known to take fielders on. One man tasked with the job of containing – and possibly removing – de Villiers is veteran Daniel Vettori. The Black Caps could not ask for a better person in the situation, with Vettori a master of keeping his bowling tight in one-dayers and forcing frustrated batsmen into unwise shots. The 36-year-old, who picked up his 300th ODI wicket earlier in the tournament, has asserted himself in New Zealand’s matches through the tournament to date, perfectly complementing the opening bowling feats of Tim Southee and Trent Boult. He has 15 wickets in seven matches at an economy rate of 3.81, while his best figures for the tournament, 4-18 off 10 overs at an economy rate of 1.80, came against Afghanistan. Vettori’s most influential performance for CWC15 so far was at Eden Park against Australia, when he was brought on by skipper Brendon McCullum to halt the fast-flowing runs from the Australian top order and snared the key dismissals of Shane Watson and Steve Smith. A gifted fielder, Vettori showed his aging body still has what it takes in the quarter-finals when he took a one-handed screamer that was quite possibly the catch of the tournament. Such was the athleticism in the leap that Vettori’s six-year-old son James commented, "Dad, you don't jump that high on the trampoline!" 2. Brendon McCullum v Dale Steyn NZ When New Zealand and South Africa walk out on to the Eden Park field, it is unlikely anyone will be more fired up than this pair. The Black Caps skipper has shown he will not take a backwards step this tournament and has no time for circumspect cricket and no intention of changing his game plan. He will go hard from ball one and if it comes off, it could be the defining factor in the match. But as shown when he was dismissed for 12 in the quarter-final, McCullum’s aggressive, no holds barred approach can be a risky one. McCullum scored the fastest World Cup fifty of all time earlier in the tournament, taking England opening bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad to task. He will look to give Proteas openers Dale Steyn and Kyle Abbott the same treatment and the first few overs of New Zealand’s innings will be crucial to see who gains the upper hand. McCullum has 269 runs for the tournament at 38.42, including scores of 77 against England, 65 against Sri Lanka and 50 against Australia. When Dale Steyn steps on to a cricket field, the easy-going South African transforms from easy going to the fiercest of fast bowlers. His reaction to taking the wicket of Tillakaratne Dilshan in the quarter-final as something to behold – arms thrown out, head thrown back, eyes bulging and mouth wide open as he roared. The tournament has not seen the best of Steyn yet – he has taken 10 wickets in seven matches at an average of 27. But if Steyn bowls at his best, the Black Caps bowlers will find it difficult to negotiate his combination of controlled swing and extreme speed. 3. Hashim Amla v Trent Boult Hashim Amla is generally given second billing when discussing South Africa’s batsman thanks to the exploits of his captain, but the unassuming batsman is consistently brilliant. Earlier in the tournament, he became the fastest batsman to 20 ODI centuries. He reached the milestone in 108 innings, overtaking previous record-holder Kohli by a massive 25 innings. That knock in Canberra was also Amla’s second in excess of 150 for the year and he has also scored two fifties this tournament, with a total of 323 runs at 46.14. While Quinton de Kock was struggling for form earlier in the tournament, Amla has been a rock at the top of the Proteas batting order. Remove him early and pressure will mount on the middle order. The Black Caps could not ask for better players to attack Amla than Trent Boult and Tim Southee. The paceman have been consistently tearing apart opposition batting line-ups this tournament and Boult sits on top of the CWC15 wicket takers heading into the semi-finals. He has taken 19 wickets at 14.63, including 5-27 against Australia and 4-44 against West Indies, and will be the perfect player to attack Amla – and de Kock, for that matter - with a barrage of pace. In a pre-tournament warm-up match in Christchurch, Boult was outstanding, swinging the ball and snaring 5-51. Amla did not play that day and the way the no.3 ranked ODI batsman handles Boult’s bowling will be crucial to the Proteas’ chances. 4. Ross Taylor v Imran Tahir SA When the teams met in the 2011 Ross Taylor was the second-highest scoring Black Cap with 43 runs. The man who denied him a half-century was none other than Imran Tahir and it is more than likely the two will do battle again through the middle overs of New Zealand’s innings. Taylor has not set the world alight during the group stages of with scores of 14, 9, 5*, 1 and 24*, but scored 56 against Bangladesh in the final pool game before a determined 42 during the quarter-final against West Indies. That innings was prematurely ended thanks to a mix-up with Martin Guptill, but it would have given him a boost of confidence ahead of the semi-finals. At the other end of the spectrum, Tahir has been in excellent form for the Proteas this tournament. He was player of the match in Sydney after taking 4-26 in the quarter-finals and has 15 wickets for the tournament at an average of 18.86. Tahir has maintained a tidy economy rate of 4.20 and been among South Africa’s best on multiple occasions and figures including 5-45 against West Indies and 3-36 against Zimbabwe. Throughout the tournament it has been the sides that have taken wickets that have been the most successful and the Proteas will be relying upon Tahir to penetrate New Zealand’s batting line-up. 5. Faf du Plessis v Tim Southee This match-up has some history dating back to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. Four years ago, du Plessis found himself at the centre of an on-field altercation with New Zealand during the 2011 quarter-final. The incident occurred after de Villiers' crucial run-out when Kyle Mills, who was not in the Black Caps’ playing XI, ran onto the field with drinks during the short break after the wicket and together with Vettori and several other New Zealand players including Southee became embroiled in a heated exchange with du Plessis and de Villiers. The exchange ended with du Plessis shoving Mills and umpire Rod Tucker stepping in between the players. Before the tournament, du Plessis spoke of his desire to meet New Zealand in a semi-final this time around, saying, “In my perfect world I would like to play New Zealand in the semi-final and have that same situation arise again,” he said. “But this time it will be the other way around. We'll be the team that's on top, and we can do the same to them.” Having settled into his role at first drop in the Proteas’ line-up, du Plessis has become one of the key men New Zealand will need to contend with. Du Plessis has scored 298 runs at 59.60 during the tournament, including 109 against Ireland, 62 against West Indies, 55 against India. Southee – who took the catch that removed du Plessis during that 2011 quarter-final – will have his eye on the prize scalp. The right-arm paceman has teamed perfectly with Boult through the tournament so far, forming one of the most dangerous opening bowling partnerships. He tore through England taking 7-33 in Wellington and has 15 scalps at 23.46 for the World Cup so far. This match-up could the most intriguing and crucial of them all with a place in the final of the greatest tournament of them all at stake.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

About Sanjay Trivedi

Sanjay Trivedi is honorary editor of Asia Times. He is senior Indian Journalist having vast experience of 25 years. He worked in Janmabhoomi, Vyapar, Divya Bhaskar etc. newspapers and TV9 Channel as well as www.news4education.com. He is serving as Media Officer in Gujarat Technological University, the university which controlling 440 colleges of Engineering, Management, Pharmacy & Architecture colleges in Gujarat.

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