Under-done Kiwis face stiff South African test

Published: Sunday, October 15, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Mumbai:New Zealand return to competitive cricket after a six month absence to take on formidable South Africa in their opening Champions Trophy match here on Monday.

In an era of non-stop cricket and excessive player workloads, the Kiwis are an oddity, having last played a one-day international way back on March 4 against the West Indies in Auckland.

They now come to India from bitterly cold winter conditions at home to literally face the heat in stifling conditions that will test both the fitness and mental resolve of the players.

Captain Stephen Fleming, one of the shrewdest captains in the modern game, chose to put a positive spin on the challenge awaiting New Zealand in the group B opener at the Brabourne stadium.

"The long break has actually been a blessing in disguise," said Fleming. "We have had ample rest and the boys are raring to go again.

"It's not that we did not play at all. Eight of us played county cricket in England while the bowlers took it easy. The good thing is that we have our full complement of players after a long time."

Pace spearhead Shane Bond is back to full fitness, but the fortunes of the 2000 Champions Trophy winners in Kenya will rest on how versatile left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori performs on the slow Indian wickets.

New Zealand have spent a week in Mumbai getting used to the heat and humidity and showed they had adjusted to the conditions by winning both practice matches against Baroda and Mumbai.

South Africa, meanwhile, are determined to live up to their status as the number two team in limited-overs cricket after world champions Australia.

Captain Graeme Smith stressed his team was not distracted by the drama surrounding Herschelle Gibbs' appearance before the New Delhi police last week to answer charges of his involement in match-fixing in 2000.

"The Gibbs probe is over and he and the rest of us can finally get back to doing what we do best, that is play cricket," said Smith.

South Africa need the seasoned Gibbs at his best as they aim to take one of the two semi-final spots from the group that includes Pakistan and in-form Sri Lanka.

When South Africa successfully chased Australia's 434-4 in an astonishing one-dayer in Johannesburg in March, Gibbs lashed 175 off 111 balls with 21 boundaries and seven sixes.

South African coach Mickey Arthur was undecided if Gibbs should revert back to opening the innings with Smith after being dropped down the order to accommodate AB de Villiers and Boeta Dippenaar.

"In this tournament the emphasis will be on scoring runs while the ball is still hard and for that reason it is not out of the question that Herschelle could return as opening batsman," said Arthur.

Leading all-rounder Jacques Kallis, veteran wicket-keeper Mark Boucher, the experienced Shaun Pollock and fast bowler Makhaya Ntini ensure South Africa run deep with both bat and ball.


New Zealand (from): Stephen Fleming (capt), Nathan Astle, Shane Bond, James Franklin, Peter Fulton, Mark Gillespie, Brendon McCullum, Hamish Marshall, Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, Jeetan Patel, Scott Styris, Daniel Vettori, Lou Vincent.

South Africa (from): Graeme Smith (capt), Loots Bosman, Mark Boucher, AB de Villiers, Boeta Dippenaar, Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Hall, Jacques Kallis, Justin Kemp, Charl Langeveldt, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Robin Peterson, Shaun Pollock.


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