Cape Town – How accurately they read the Eden Park pitch in
advance could be a key factor in South Africa’s plans to extend their unbeaten
World Cup run to three matches at the expense of Pakistan in Auckland on
Saturday (03:00 SA time).
The debate still rages about how best the Proteas can shape
their XI, and perhaps captain AB de Villiers was being more honest and sensible
than evasive when he reportedly said after the thrashing of Ireland that they would
decide on the desired balance of the combination on a match-by-match basis.
So expect an even keener, closer examination of the
match-day strip than usual by the skipper and the rest of the team’s
strategists for the encounter with the notoriously unpredictable Pakistanis.
Adding to the intrigue, though – smoke signals suggest JP
Duminy will be ready for inclusion, requiring at least one alteration -- is
that this one doesn’t look like being the easiest to assess.
Eden Park has hosted just one, crackerjack encounter at the
World Cup thus far, which New Zealand nicked by one wicket from cross-Tasman
rivals Australia last weekend.
The match significantly bucked the general high-scoring pattern
at the tournament: the Aussies were bundled out for a rare 151 in only 32.2
overs, with the Black Caps replying with 152 for nine in a heart-stopping
The participants in the fast and furious scrap and pundits
alike were baffled as to why scores had been so low; pre-game predictions were
that it could be a belter for batsmen and someone like in-form Brendon McCullum
almost seemed to confirm that as he nonchalantly dashed to a 24-ball fifty at
the front of the order in the chase.
A more revealing characteristic, however, was the pace and
swing generated by several quickies on view: there were career-best
performances respectively for left-armers Trent Boult (New Zealand, 5/27) and
the Aussies’ Mitchell Starc (6/28).
Then again, if De Villiers, coach Russell Domingo and others
are tempted to believe a seamers’ paradise is in the offing on Saturday, they
might also wish to chew on the confusing fact that Australian thunderbolt
Mitchell Johnson received some major “tap” in conceding 68 runs from six
Losing captain Michael Clarke made the educative point
afterwards that it had, in reality, been a “very good pitch” and he branded his
team’s batting display as “horrendous”.
From a spinning point of view in that contest, the Black
Caps’ veteran Daniel Vettori didn’t fare at all badly: he bowled a full quota
of 10 overs for a tidy return of 2/41, suggesting that Imran Tahir and Duminy
could also prosper with their slow stuff against Pakistan – is this going to be
the game where the Proteas bravely take the plunge and decide to entrust the
latter with status as the designated, standalone fifth bowler so as not to
compromise their batting depth?
In the last completed one-day international at Eden Park
before the World Cup, back in January last year, some would say that a more
normal game materialised: New Zealand and India both posted beefy totals of 314
in a thrilling tie.
The Proteas do boast the comforting knowledge of victory in
their own last ODI appearance at the venue more renowned for its rugby
heritage: they beat the Black Caps (admittedly a well less formidable force
then than now) convincingly by five wickets in March 2012, paceman Marchant de
Lange grabbing 4/46 on debut.
Eden Park hosts one of the World Cup 2015 semi-finals, on
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing