The last time South Africa played New Zealand in cricket’s biggest stage- there were tears on their players’ face, the audience was reduced in a motionless stutter and the one phrase that explained the emotion of their fans was “heartbreak.”
It seemed had the team been staying in a cherry luxurious hotel in New Zealand, then by the time their bus arrived back, players would’ve headed back to some heartbreak hotel!’
With Steyn down on the ground, Morkel in tears, AB looking disconsolate and Faf outfoxed, there was emptiness, no more fears.
No more challenges for the end had announced itself.
Today, nearly half a decade since that fateful night of a familiar Protea capitulation at Eden Park, as South Africa prepare to embrace New Zealand, a lot has changed in their team composition if not in collective fortunes.
There’s no Steyn. AB’s long gone, same for Morkel. But above all, there’s a breath of sameness that has engulfed South Africa’s fortunes.
They are, yet again, on the edge, a familiar space from which they’ve often plunged into oblivion although the situation the last time around came a few miles later than where they stand at present.
If the 2019 World Cup could be described in a single sentence comprising of three words, then their critics would be quick to jump the gun- South Africa choke again.
And this is exactly where Faf du Plessis would want to step in and make it count.
The South African captain would want to treat this must-win encounter for his side as being nothing less important than a virtual live or die contest, a semis stage if you like.
He’d, therefore, be mindful of the big occasion that he’ll be required to make the most of, now that for all intents and purposes, he’s their team’s mainstay. Moreover, his hard-fought 38 in a low-scoring (one-sided) game against India and that 62 against Bangladesh, both of which, ended in a losing cause, prove that Faf’s got the intent to score if not the results he’d love to grab.
Which is a good omen for a South Africa you’d want to see perform at their best, instead of seeming like the battle-hardened veterans they’ve been in this tournament.
Additionally, the kind of form de Kock- two identical scores of 68 behind him in this series, brings could make him the trump card that his captain would want- something South Africa so desperately need.
Make no mistake.
New Zealand, boasting with a quality attack featuring Henry, Boult, GrandHomme, Southee, not to forget Neesham who only recently proved himself again, would be keen to take this Protean tussle as no banal contest.
After all, why would any team want to take any contest in the world cup lightly?
Moreover, if it’s a team that’s won all games it’s played so far would want to grab another win before it marches on. Their next games, after all, are against Australia and West Indies, both of whom are dangerous on present form.
One would also expect Imran Tahir, perhaps the more durable weapon South Africa have thus far fielded, to continue with his form. Before the veteran leggie even arrived for the world cup, all the headlines belonged to his famous compatriot, Dale Steyn.
At the moment, it’s Tahir, with 8 wickets so far, including a 4-for, that yielded South Africa’s maiden win the other day (even though, against Afghanistan), who seems the pick of the bowlers.
He’d draw a lot of heart from his own record against New Zealand. An economy of 4.25 and nearly a tenth of his ODI wickets- 17 of his 170- against the Kiwis make him more of a bird than his opponents.
Should Rabada chip in with a few early wickets with Tahir for company, South Africa could well become the poster boys of an ostentatious comeback.
Moreover, that Boult, only a few hours ago reflected of his opponents, “We have a lot of respect for South Africa,” shows us the kind of challenge most teams face when they take on South Africa: delightful, bedazzling and ever so susceptible to a collapse in equal measure.
That told, what Faf would want above anything else would be to see his marksman down the order, David Miller, to truly make it count.
The harmless 30s or quick-fire 20 somethings won’t help. Nor will firing 2 big sixes in an over down the barrel do as much as a big meaningful score. And if that comes from Amla’s bat, then all the better isn’t it?
Here’s a batsman who, make no mistake, is a legend of the modern game, someone who’s well over 2500 runs ahead than his captain’s mark in ODI cricket; yet someone whose bat has gone silent with the runs going all dry. Time to get a move on, before South Africa are pushed out, Hashim?
For more reasons than many that we all could imagine, a win here for South Africa would lift their confidence like few aspects can. Say something like the importance of a gigantic spell of rain with a blooming rainbow for a farmer grappling with a miserable dry season.
Bring it on, Faf! For the sake of fans, for the sake of Cricket enjoying the familiar spark in Protea Fire.