Durban - Whoever wins the Tuesday morning’s last four clash between the Proteas and New Zealand will advance to the Cricket World Cup final for the first time in their history. South Africans would like to believe that the Proteas are slight favourites, but most experts are anticipating the tightest of affairs. Here are five factors that could determine the outcome of the match.
1. THE 12th MAN
Playing at home is always an advantage when it comes to matches of this magnitude. The Black Caps have benefited from amazing crowd support so far, and Eden Park will be absolutely buzzing as the co-hosts look to maintain their undefeated status at the tournament. It is possibly the biggest match in both of these nations’ cricketing history, and there is pressure. The one shining light for the Proteas is that, just maybe, they will go into the match with less pressure on their shoulders given the expectation of the home crowd.
The ball is expected to swing in Auckland, and this can only be good news for South Africa’s kingpin Dale Steyn. The Phalaborwa Express was back to his best in the quarter-finals, and if you add that element of swing to his game that has been lacking then he could prove a handful. Kyle Abbott also swings the ball naturally, and the conditions are likely to suit him too. Unfortunately for the Proteas, New Zealand boast one of the best exponents of swing bowling in Trent Boult, who has taken more wickets (19) than anybody else at the tournament. Whichever batting lineup deals with swing best could decide the winner.
3. THE OPENERS
Martin Guptill has never been a threat to South Africa. He averages just 11.5 against the Proteas in 11 ODIs, but the 28-year-old has all of a sudden become a factor after his record breaking 237* against the Windies in the quarters. At the other end, Brendon McCullum’s approach and ability is well known and the Proteas bowlers are up against an extremely dangerous pair right from the beginning. Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock have been poor together. If ever there was a time for them to lay down a solid foundation, then this is it. Amla is due and De Kock has found a bit of form, and they will know that keeping wickets in hand is crucial whether the Proteas bat first or second.
4. LIMITING THE DAMAGE
One of the best aspects of the Proteas’ win over Sri Lanka was the bowlers’ ability to limit the damage in the opening power play. Kumar Sangakkara had been playing freely and aggressively all tournament but against Steyn, Morkel and Abbott he wasn’t given an inch. New Zealand’s batting has been ruthless, and if they have first use of the wicket then SA must bowl with the same accuracy and aggressiveness that they showed in the quarters. When and how they use their fifth bowler - JP Duminy - will also prove decisive. How many runs he goes for will be largely determined by when he bowls. Imran Tahir possesses the ability to change the course of the game, and South Africans will be longing for him to show the same form he did in the quarters.
5. OH CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN
His batting ability aside, AB de Villiers needs to be a leader on Tuesday. It will be hot under the collar and there will be some big, big calls. Tactics, bowling changes, fielding positions, implementation of the power plays, reviews … all of it will play a big part in who emerges victorious. As intense a situation as it may be, the Proteas will need a cool head making the decisions when the going gets tough. And the going will get tough. But AB the batsman will always be a highlight, and if he can find the touch he showed against the West Indies in the group stages, then it could be a long day at the office for New Zealand.