POOL B | Sunday 15 February | Hamilton | 03:00
The Proteas begin their World Cup campaign against neighbours and minnows Zimbabwe in the opening Pool B fixture on Sunday morning. South Africa start the tournament in New Zealand before migrating to Australia for their next three matches, returning to Auckland and Wellington to wrap up group proceedings. The challenges and pitch conditions will be different in both countries and South Africa’s recent success on New Zealand’s small grounds will spur them on. Zimbabwe are not expected to make it beyond the group stages but could prove stubborn adversaries as the morale in the camp continues to improve. Zimbabwe are no stranger to World Cup surprises and will be hopeful of springing one early.
To Win Match
South Africa 1/25
Australia will put up with the burden of being the host nation but the Proteas carry the unwelcome tag of the best side never to have won a World Cup. One unfortunate comedy of errors after another has ensured that the pressure on the South African side has built to unbearable levels. Indeed, the conversation is no longer about whether South Africa have the players to get them over the line, but how those players respond to the mental aspect of playing a World Cup in a Proteas shirt. Pressure situations have a habit of getting the better of the Proteas in limited overs cricket, global tournament or not. They will, however, feel that they could not be better prepared for what is to come. The Proteas beat Australia in the final of the Zimbabwe Tri-Series last year as well as besting Sri Lanka in a recent warm-up from a situation that would usually have troubled them.
AB de Villiers was rested as Sri Lanka piled on 279 runs from 44.4 overs before the heavens opened. They would surely have cruised past 300 had the innings been completed as all of the South African bowlers went for runs. The Proteas managed to navigate rain delays and target adjustments to chase down 188 in 25 overs, blazing to victory courtesy of a 116-run opening partnership and power hitting from Rilee Rossouw and Vernon Philander at the back end of the innings. Quinton de Kock returned to form with a quickfire 66 but the Proteas did suffer a middle-order collapse, losing five wickets for 51 runs. The middle to lower-order and death bowling are still areas of concern for the side. Against Zimbabwe, form players such as Hashim Amla, captain AB de Villiers and David Miller must stamp their authority on the tournament. Spin may also come into play in Hamilton and Imran Tahir could gain some much-needed confidence.
The minnows have made it through the group stages of the World Cup twice, once due to England’s refusal to play in Zimbabwe and once as a result of upsetting two of the bigger nations. This Zimbabwe side, however, is a far cry from the one of 1999 who beat a South African side that went all the way to the semi-finals. That side also managed a win over the Proteas in Durban in 2000, the last time that Zimbabwe beat South Africa in ODI cricket. They have only won ten of their 51 World Cup matches which makes them the team with the largest loss percentage in the tournament’s history. However, they have featured more often than the other smaller nations.
New coach Dav Whatmore has instilled an invigorated sense of belief in the Zimbabwean camp. He has created a better environment for the players, ensuring that they enjoy their cricket first and foremost. Previous gaffer Stephen Mangongo was more drill sergeant than coach and with Zimbabwe now practising less and thinking about the game more, they are hopeful of a minor resurgence. Indeed, Whatmore was a World Cup winner when he led Sri Lanka to the title and was instrumental in upsets caused when in charge of Bangladesh. Brendan Taylor will be key to Zimbabwe’s chances of advancing from Pool B. He has two World Cup half-centuries to his name but will be expected to bat longer this time around. Hamilton Masakadza will finally make his World Cup debut. Zimbabwe will prefer slower wickets that offer a bit of turn, so conditions in New Zealand will likely suit them better than Australia.
Seddon Park in Hamilton plays host to Pool B’s opening fixture and a quick look at the previous few ODIs at the ground indicates that reaching 300 will be a challenge. Scores are generally fair to middling, providing a good contest between bat and ball. South Africa haven’t played a completed match at the ground since 1995 while Zimbabwe’s absence stretches back to 1998. It looks as though conditions may be a bit cloudy which could suit the quicker bowlers.
VERDICT: Top South Africa Batsman, Hashim Amla 2/1
There’s no point in backing the Proteas at a paltry 1/25. The truth is that they will win this match comfortably but our goal is to find some better value. This comes in the form of South African opener Hashim Amla. Although he’s priced up as favourite to score runs, this is for good reason. His form over the past two months has been peerless. A double century against West Indies in the Test series was followed by scores of 66, 153 not out, 61 not out and 133 in the ODI series that followed. He also got a decent start against Sri Lanka in the warm-up match and is tipped for a big innings against Zimbabwe.