As New Zealand fans dusted off the laziness of the weekend, grabbed a Monday morning cuppa and prepared for the working week ahead, they were stopped in their tracks by a call to arms. There was a rallying cry from the front page of the New Zealand Herald.
The New Zealand cricket team has been reminded that it lost to South Africa, its opponents in Tuesday’s (March 24) ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final, the last time the two teams played a One-Day International series, at home in New Zealand. McCullum has been reminded that his team has played all its seven matches in this World Cup at home, and should it make the final, something it has never done before, it will be rank outsiders, not having played an ODI in Australia in nearly six years. The side has been reminded that it will be without Adam Milne, whose extra pace has been a key factor in McCullum’s bowling barrage strategy, heel swelling ruling out the bowler at the eleventh hour.
South Africa has been reminded that the only time it has played New Zealand in a World Cup match here at Eden Park, it was well beaten, the home team getting across the line with seven wickets and 93 balls to spare. AB de Villiers has been reminded of his team’s penchant for fluffing its lines at knockout matches of global events. The side has been reminded that the team has been called another, less flattering name.
While history is a great teacher, and no man can really escape his history or geography completely, this ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final is one where looking back could be very misleading. The manner in which McCullum has moulded this New Zealand team, both in terms of tactics and more significantly in self-belief and attitude, makes it a singular bunch. There have certainly been more talented New Zealand cricketers pulling on national colours, but this team, as a group, is starkly different from any other that came before it.
In the build-up to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, a South Africa player, in conversation with someone who had played a fair bit of cricket himself, said: “In the past we were perhaps not ready, as a team, or as a country, to win the World Cup. But, this is our time.” When you look back at South Africa’s exits: the rain rule that denied it in 1992, Allan Donald and that single in 1999, the collective misreading of the Duckworth-Lewis charts in 2003, all point to a team, even a country, that was not ready to get across the finish line, having done all the hard work in getting there. It hardly mattered that the personnel changed, the result seemed to stay the same.
De Villiers’s South Africa has looked anything but brooders, or the kind to look wistfully at the past. There has been a hard edge to this team, a focus on simply getting the job done, not overcomplicating the game or theorising endlessly about it. From batsmen to bowlers to coaching staff, the message that has come out of the South Africa camp has been a simple one: go out there and get the job done, this is what we have been preparing for, for all our lives.
Whichever team wins on Tuesday – the chance of rain interrupting play at some stage being the only dampener – it will do so against the weight of history. Neither of these teams have ever been in a ICC Cricket World Cup final. Nothing like the present, then, to create a bit of history.
Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum (capt), Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Grant Elliott, Corey Anderson, Luke Ronchi (wk), Daniel Vettori, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Mitchell McClenaghan/Matt Henry.
Quinton de Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Rilee Rossouw, AB de Villiers (capt), David Miller, JP Duminy, Dale Steyn, Kyle Abbott/Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir.