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Cricket: Southee's set to put the squeeze on in tight tussle

Black Caps bowler keen to do well at the death at a favourite ground.
New Zealand bowler Tim Southee (centre) loves being involved in tight finishes such as this one at Eden Park.  Photo / Photosport
New Zealand bowler Tim Southee (centre) loves being involved in tight finishes such as this one at Eden Park. Photo / Photosport

The stage is set for Tim Southee and Trent Boult to repeat their pinpoint bowling heroics in today's third one-day cricket international of the five-match series between New Zealand and South Africa at Westpac Stadium.

Ross Taylor's century ensured the hosts had a defendable total when they levelled 1-1 in Christchurch, but Southee and Boult's consistent yorkers in the final two overs came straight from the senior pro handbook. There was little room for error, given the visitors needed 20 to win with two wickets in hand.

Both bowlers have exemplary 50-over records at Westpac Stadium.

In seven matches, Southee, 28, has 23 wickets at an average of 14.52, economy rate of 5.09 and strike rate of 17, the best of any New Zealander. Boult has eight wickets in four ODIs at 20.87. He concedes 4.33 runs per over and takes a wicket every 29 balls.

Southee's seven for 33 against England at the World Cup two years ago - the best bowling figures by a Black Cap in an ODI - remains vivid.

The performance demonstrated the precision of his wrist position as he toyed with the English batsmen. Southee bowled unplayable yorkers and generated movement in the air and off the seam. It was batting carnage as England were dismissed for 123 in the 34th over.

The crowd chanted "Sou-thee" in a way that hadn't been heard since a knight named Hadlee had the two syllables of his surname bellowed in such fashion a generation earlier.

However, one of Southee's career strengths has been donning an inscrutable mask to gushing praise or vitriolic abuse. Keeping his emotions in check translates to composure when bowling in crises.

Yesterday he resisted the urge to skite when asked about past experience at the venue.

"It's a decent-sized ground; a bit short square, but usually the wicket is good. It can swing too, if it's not too windy."

Boult doesn't flinch in the face of adversity either, regardless of success or failure. Teammates and fans love it.

Take the left-armer's recent form with the white ball.

In six ODIs since Christmas, he's secured 14 wickets at 19.14 with an economy rate of 4.99 and strike rate of 23. That includes career-best ODI figures of six for 33 to defeat Australia in Hamilton.

South African batsman Jean-Paul Duminy said crucial wickets and tight bowling wrested away momentum at Hagley Oval.

"Tim and Trent are always a force to be reckoned with up front using a swinging ball. You've got to be at the top of your game to combat that.

"The Black Caps are always a street-smart team who can put you under pressure until the last ball."

The results won't always fall in New Zealand's favour at the death, but they must play the percentages as best they can. Last Sunday, Southee was drilled down the ground by AB de Villiers as South Africa won the opening game. Last month, he initiated the final act which saw Kane Williamson run out Josh Hazlewood at Eden Park as Marcus Stoinis took Australia to the brink of victory.

"It's great to be involved in games that go to the wire," Southee said. "As a death bowler, it's something you look forward to. It's not going to come off every time but it's satisfying when it does, particularly in the close ones."

Chapter and verse: Dismiss AB de Villiers

Anyone writing a definitive guide on "how New Zealand can beat South Africa?" should dedicate at least one chapter to "The dismissal of AB de Villiers".

The Proteas skipper has batted 20 times in completed one-day internationals between the countries; his side have won 13 and lost seven.

In the 13 victories, de Villiers averaged 83 with a strike rate of 98, scoring four half-centuries and a century.

In the seven defeats, he averaged 31.83 with a strike rate of 93, scoring one half-century. However, that innings was a noble effort. Rain interrupted him in his pomp at Eden Park in the 2015 World Cup semi-final. He eventually finished unbeaten on 65.

The opening matches of this ODI series have provided a similar gauge to his talisman-like impact.

His 37 not out, including the winning straight loft for four, got the Proteas home in the opening match in Hamilton; his 45, when Trent Boult coaxed a bottom edge, was the seminal moment in New Zealand levelling the series in Christchurch.

The wicket of de Villiers will be cherished most in the New Zealanders bowling plans; but forming a plan is the hard part. The 33-year-old is batting quicksilver. His anticipation and versatility to play through 360 degrees is peerless. Hopefully he is still fit after suffering knocks to the little finger of his left hand and his left shoulder in the field.

As century-maker Ross Taylor noted after Wednesday's match:

"I think if we didn't get him out there [at 199 for six in the 39th over], the game could have been totally different. He was pacing the innings so well. He seemed to time it from ball one."

Tim Southee agreed de Villiers' dismissal provided a momentum shift.

"He's a world-class player and world-class finisher. There are probably two guys in world cricket who you don't rest over until you get them. He and [Indian captain] Virat Kohli have proven anything's possible while they're there.

"There are guys around AB who can do the job as well. It's a dangerous line-up."

Top bowlers

NZ's highest ODI wicket-takers at Westpac Stadium
Tim Southee 23
Daniel Vettori 22
Scott Styris 17
Shane Bond 15
Kyle Mills 14

- NZ Herald

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