Cricket: South Africa first real threat to Black Caps' momentum

By David Leggat

Both sides have much to prove in opening Twenty20 clash of series.
Photo / Getty Images
Both sides have much to prove in opening Twenty20 clash of series. Photo / Getty Images

In time it may be seen as just another T20, but tonight's international opener at Westpac Stadium has rather more than that riding on it.

From South Africa's perspective, they want to make an impact early, and the warmup game against Canterbury on Wednesday - a 20-run win after a late scare - will have done them good.

For New Zealand, a nice momentum roll has developed since beating Australia in Hobart in December, accompanied by a positive vibe reverberating through the cricket land.

Zimbabwe were seen off easily enough - the last T20 in Hamilton the notable exception, which raised concerns over New Zealand's slipshod bowling and ordinary fielding - but the main course has arrived. Life is about to get significantly tougher for New Zealand.

First the visitors. There are new faces, and that invariably means fresh energy in the dressing room.

Chunky opener Richard Levi is one who should make his South African debut tonight after a blockbusting 63 off 32 balls in Christchurch.

"He's definitely an impact player, and a good find for us," captain AB de Villiers said of Levi last night. "I'm expecting to see a lot of these faces [at the world T20 in September]. That's definitely part of the plan to get these boys ready for later in the year."

Expect hostility from South Africa's pace bowlers, and aggression with the bat and in the field, which New Zealand have to match.

They have omitted Auckland seamer Michael Bates and senior allrounder Jacob Oram, with a slight calf strain, from their squad.

Captain Brendon McCullum will preach doing the basics right before what he termed getting "tactically funky", which sounds a sensible ploy. Get those right and "it'll give us an opportunity to explore some of those areas we think we can target them".

Martin Guptill returns to the top of the order, but James Franklin amply demonstrated his value with the bat in Hamilton on Tuesday night, with 50 off 37 balls against the Zimbabweans.

He seems suited to a floating role in the order, as does Nathan McCullum, while Kane Williamson's finishing off of that game - 20 not out off five balls - added another layer to the options.

De Villiers wants his team to entertain and enjoy themselves. Oh, and win too.

"New Zealand at home really know their conditions extremely well so it'll be tough for us to get on top."

The key, he added, was when they do to "make sure we drive it in".

New Zealand are No 2 in world T20 standings; South Africa fourth. Win this series and the visitors will overtake their hosts and jump to No 2 behind England. Motivation?

"I didn't know that," de Villiers said. He does now.

The New Zealand women's team will play England in their opening game of a series of eight limited-overs internationals as curtain-raiser tonight.

They have five T20s and three ODIs. The first three T20s will all be televised as curtain-raisers for the South African T20s.

- NZ Herald

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