David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Grand game, pity about the black mark

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Daniel Vettori ensured we stayed in the game. Photo / Getty Images
Daniel Vettori ensured we stayed in the game. Photo / Getty Images

New Zealand's cricketers have become used to feeling the fans' boots on their backsides.

To be fair, in the last few months they have given plenty of ammunition for a public flogging.

So now they deserve a meaty pat on the back. In beating South Africa to make the World Cup semifinals they confounded all pre-game predictions.

They will have fancied their chances - if they didn't they shouldn't have even boarded the plane to the sub-continent all those weeks ago. But precious few others would have given them a prayer.

They won by scoring enough runs - just, another 20 would have been preferable - fielding out of their skins, again, and bowling splendidly.

It was a win based on resolute qualities, with tons of heart.

If you want to pick holes, it wasn't the perfect display. A couple of key batsmen gifted their wickets away, and they weren't as adept as rotating the strike as any manual on best cricket tactics would suggest.

But they got a top-notch performance out of Jesse Ryder, a decent supporting hand from Ross Taylor and a crucial late contribution from Kane Williamson.

They had another element in their strategy, too: South Africa's well-known aversion for pressure-cooker situations. When they happen, the Proteas are like vampires walking into a room full of crosses.

Every time a World Cup rolls around, it's assumed this time they'll put that old chestnut in the fire. But again it bounced out and burned them.

For all New Zealand's desperation, how South Africa managed to stuff things up from 108 for two with Jacques Kallis remorselessly going about his business and AB de Villiers, perhaps the most effective short order batting cook in the game, only they know.

To captain Dan Vettori goes enormous credit for setting attacking fields, of ensuring New Zealand stayed in the game, as well as bowling his 10 overs impressively on one leg.

The one black mark was the verbal spat when Francois du Plessis was awaiting a red light on de Villiers' run out.

Aggression is important as long as it's controlled. New Zealand's players earn some slack on the incident as emotions were clearly running high.

After all, written off and suddenly, having squeezed the South African lemon hard and long enough, they could see the pips starting to fly out.

But it was ugly. Pointing out to du Plessis that he'd effectively tossed away the game is fine, but Kyle Mills, who was not even in the XI, had no place getting involved when the verbal sparks were flying. Hefty fines were handed out to Mills, Vettori and du Plessis, and justified, too.

This is not to defend the poor put-upon du Plessis. South Africans are well capable of looking after themselves and they've never been afraid to impart some wisdom to opponents when things are getting crunchy.

Now it's about to get tougher for New Zealand, after Sri Lanka roared into the semifinals with a brutal dismissal of England at Colombo's Premadasa Stadium yesterday.

"We are playing in our home country and with these conditions and crowd support I think we are a good chance," said century-making opener and confirmed under-stater of the bleedin' obvious, Upal Tharanga.

Tharanga and Tillekaratne Dilshan's unbroken 231, with 10.3 overs to spare, mowed down England's challenge.

So now New Zealand have an inkling of what will be required tomorrow night.

They were well beaten by the Sri Lankans in Mumbai in pool play. Steamy Colombo will be different. Tougher certainly, but they'll go in not without hope.

Sri Lanka's front four batsmen are formidable, but below that they've had few opportunities in the cup.

If they can slice through at the top, field like demons again and make somewhere around 250 against one of the most awkward bowling attacks in the tournament they'll be right in the hunt. It's simple, if you say it quickly.

A day later, India host Pakistan in Mohali in a contest reeking of far more than just 100 overs of cricket.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be there. So will his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani. The teams haven't met in India since 2007 because of the Mumbai terror attacks of the following year.

You can't get a ticket for the game but still thousands will turn up in the hope of obtaining one; you can't get a hotel room for a 25km radius. Pakistan's team hotel has been cordoned off. Players wanting to leave must give four hours' notice. Sounds like fun. Pakistan's manager Intikhab Alam has tried to play down the occasion, with "it's just a game" type rhetoric. Nice try, Inty.

So spare a thought for the security personnel. They'll certainly have many easier days than Wednesday.

* And finally the Warriors.

Dear oh dear.

- NZ Herald

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