Cricket World Cup 2015

At war in the Garden of Eden

2015-03-23 16:00
Eden Park (AFP)

Auckland - Four years after it was meant to happen, two of the world's most bitter sporting rivals - New Zealand and South Africa - will face off in a World Cup semi-final at Eden Park.

"When South Africa plays New Zealand, consider your country at war," legendary Springbok Boy Louw once said.

His focus was rugby, but the passion will be no less in Tuesday's cricket showdown at Eden Park which serves as New Zealand's rugby and cricket fortress.

During the Rugby World Cup in 2011, the All Blacks and Springboks were expected to meet in a semi-final at Eden Park, but Australia did not follow the script and knocked the South Africans out in the quarters.

But there is no spoiler in the Cricket World Cup and the battle for a place in the final is set.

Eden Park has been the scene of some magnificent battles between New Zealand and South Africa over the years but rarely has one intoxicated the nation with such magnitude as this semi-final.

There have been calls in the news media for a public holiday so the nation can stop and watch.

Although New Zealand and South Africa have both held rugby's ultimate trophy neither has made a cricket World Cup final, further spicing up a match already fuelled by memories of a bitter quarter final at Dhaka in the 2011 tournament.

Such is the passion generated in New Zealand by their cricketers' unbeaten run through the tournament that they have been elevated in the public eye from second best to be on a par with the reigning rugby world champion All Blacks.

"I've never been compared to an All Black," a stunned Trent Boult, the leading wicket-taker in the tournament, exclaimed.

According to Kane Williamson there is only one difference in the intensity of New Zealand's rivalry with South Africa in cricket and rugby.

"We've never tackled them on the cricket field," he quipped.

There may have been no tackling in the 2011 quarter-final but there were eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations which boiled over with New Zealand's verbal spray targeted at Faf du Plessis when AB de Villiers was run out

Du Plessis shoved Kyle Mills, who had brought drinks on to the field, de Villiers returned to support his teammate and eventually the umpires had to separate them

There are six survivors from that New Zealand squad and seven in the South African squad who will reappear at Eden Park, including de Plessis who has relished the prospect of a rematch.

"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," he said ahead of the World Cup.

While South Africa started the World Cup justifiably as one of the tournament favourites, despite also wearing the chokers tag from past failures, New Zealand were rated underdogs.

But that has turned around after South Africa lost to India and Pakistan in pool play while New Zealand captured the imagination of the tournament with an unbeaten run to their seventh semi-final, drawing packed stadiums wherever they have played.

When Tim Southee ripped apart England with 7-33, Wellington's Westpac Stadium echoed with unprecedented chants of "Sou-thee, Sou-thee" which became "Mar-tin Gup-till" when the New Zealand opener smacked his record double century against the West Indies.

South Africa meanwhile were made to feel most unwelcome by the crowd when they turned up in Auckland to play Pakistan who won extreme support from a supposedly neutral New Zealand horde.

South Africa lost that match by 29 runs while New Zealand's one previous World Cup outing at Eden Park was their cliffhanger one-wicket win over Australia.

South Africa have won 36 of the completed 56 ODIs between the two but the record at Eden Park is an even 3-3.

New Zealand holds the edge 4-2 in the six times they have clashed at the World Cup including a 49-run win in the spiteful Dhaka quarter-final.

In rugby history, the All Blacks have won seven of their 10 Tests against the Springboks at Eden Park but overall it drops to a 59 percent winning margin with the All Blacks claiming 51 of their 89 Tests against the Springboks.

At the World Cup, they have met three times with South Africa winning twice including the 1995 final which went to extra time before Joel Stransky's dropped goal put his side ahead 15-12.

If they manage to follow the blueprint for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, New Zealand and South Africa will meet in a semi-final at Twickenham on October 24.


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