Cricket: NZ need spin doctors to top Proteas

By David Leggat

Spin, and how New Zealand play it, is shaping up as a key element as they face crunch time in the World Cup tonight.

They play South Africa in Mirpur, Bangladesh, on a pitch expected to help spinners.

And South Africa are tipped to play three - Johan Botha, a routine but economical offspinner, the left arm orthodox Robin Peterson, and Imran Tahir, a bouncy, wristy legspinner who has turned heads in the tournament. The latter two have shared 26 wickets in the cup so far.

New Zealand's history against quality spin in helpful conditions is poor, most recently against Sri Lanka last weekend when they were rolled for 153.

Pakistan took eight West Indian wickets with spin on the same pitch block in surging to a 10-wicket win in the first quarter-final yesterday.

Hints on what New Zealand should expect are everywhere they look.

New Zealand should have captain Dan Vettori back from a two-game layoff with a knee strain; Nathan McCullum provides the offspin and there is thought being given to including the third frontline spinner, Luke Woodcock, who hasn't been used in the tournament so far.

More likely, Kane Williamson's occasional offspin could secure him the one iffy middle-order selection, ahead of James Franklin.

Scott Styris is being promoted to No 5 in the order, Franklin's old spot, which also suggests Williamson has the inside running.

Vettori acknowledged the substantial part spin bowling plays in cricket in Bangladesh.

"If you look at the matches we played over here before Christmas, it plays a huge part with 40 overs against it sometimes," he said.

"South Africa will look to play three spinners, that's a big factor because you're going to face it rather than an all-out seam attack."

Vettori is confident his knee will hold up to the bowling requirements in the match.

"I'm a bit sore," he said. "It's just about being confident on it, trusting that there's no more damage I can do.

"I've just got to make sure it doesn't hinder me in any way. There's no drama at all with the bowling."

Seamer Kyle Mills' chances of starting are slimmer. He had been making steady progress from his quad strain picked up against Canada on March 13 but evidently it tightened up in the nets yesterday.

Daryl Tuffey, the replacement for Hamish Bennett who hasn't played in the cup yet, is the obvious like-for-like replacement, unless New Zealand go full out with the spin alternative.

Vettori and his South African rival, Graeme Smith, have an intriguing choice at the toss.

Pitches tend to get lower and slower as games progress, which would suggest bat first every time, given the choice.

However, the record at this ground counterbalances that. Teams chasing a target have won 29 times there, against 18 wins by the side batting first. Indeed, between January 2009 and March last year, 17 successive ODIs were won by the team batting second.

Either way, New Zealand will need to play out of their skins tonight to avoid an early flight home.

* New Zealand's scheduled test trip to Bangladesh in May has been postponed until next year.

New Zealand's next tour will be to Zimbabwe in October.

- NZ Herald

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