Fear of failure dogs NZ, South Africa ahead of WCup semi
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) South Africa or New Zealand is poised to rewrite its World Cup history in the Cricket World Cup semifinal on Tuesday, when the winner will earn a spot in the final for the first time.
Both teams are playing good cricket - in New Zealand's case perhaps the best in its history - both are confident and, despite a late injury to New Zealand fast bowler Adam Milne, both are heading into match in what South Africa captain A.B. de Villiers describes as ''a good space.''
Yet the fear exists, based partly on their respective World Cup records, that the knockout match may not be won by the best team but might be lost by the team that blinks first.
New Zealand will be appearing in a World Cup semifinal for the seventh time and has never gone further, never taken the next step to give itself the chance in a final to win one of cricket's biggest prizes. South Africa, among the top cricket-playing nations, probably has the most abject World Cup record among the top contenders, a history of misfortune, miscalculation and form implosions.
The semifinal has the potential to provide great sporting theater, with a host of the world's most exciting players and two form teams meeting in a make-or-break contest in front of a packed house. But the possibility exists that one of those teams might find the occasion too much - in a word, choke - and deliver a win to the other side.
''I don't think so,'' said New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, adding he would sleep well Monday night. ''Both teams are playing aggressively, playing an entertaining style of cricket and both teams are trying to win key moments rather than not lose them. Tomorrow will be a great spectacle and I expect the team that is able to handle the crunch situations the best will come out on top.
''We'll have one team that's never made it to the final celebrating and the others will take it in their stride.''
South Africa's failures at past World Cups have been well documented. In 1992 it faced England in a rain-affected semifinal: South Africa needed 22 runs from 13 balls when the rain began but somehow was set the revised target of 21 from one ball when it cleared. In 1996, as one of the favorites, it was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
As tournament host in 2003, South Africa failed to progress beyond the group stage when it bungled a run chase in a rain-affected match, leading to the resignation of captain Shaun Pollock. In 2007 it crashed out in the semifinals after being dismissed by Australia for 149 - its lowest World Cup score.
And in 2011, in a match in which current skipper AB de Villiers was a key figure, it was beaten by New Zealand in an acrimonious quarterfinal.
''There has been a lot of emphasis on our past and South Africa not doing well at World Cups,'' de Villiers said. ''We don't mind that too much.
''I have gone through the whole package of emotions, fighting it, accepting it, then fighting it again. I honestly am not putting emphasis on that at all.''
South Africa ended its winless streak in knockout matches when it beat 1996 champion Sri Lanka in a quarterfinal last week, and de Villiers' squad is growing in confidence.
''I know the squad is in a really good space and I am going to say it again ... we know if we play a good game of cricket we will come out on top,'' de Villiers said.
South Africa still has a minor injury concern around seamer Vernon Philander, who has had a hamstring injury. Philander seemed untroubled when he bowled in the nets on Sunday and he might play at the expense of Kyle Abbott.
New Zealand had a setback on Monday when its third seamer, Adam Milne, was ruled out due to a heel injury. McCullum and coach Mike Hesson will check out the Eden Park pitch before making a decision on Milne's replacement, though it is possible the relatively inexperienced Matt Henry, a late addition to the squad, will play.
Those are minor setbacks in what have otherwise been untroubled preparations for this match. South Africa has had longer than New Zealand to focus on this game, after beating Sri Lanka in its quarterfinal. New Zealand has had only two days to refocus after its comprehensive quarterfinal win over the West Indies.
''The way we've been playing has been obviously a pretty exciting brand of cricket as well,'' McCullum said. ''Just because it's a pressure game we shouldn't change that. It's our greatest chance of success. That's our most authentic style of cricket and I wouldn't think that will change tomorrow.''