South Africa, the pre-tournament favourites, will get the first big test of their World Twenty20 title credentials when they meet New Zealand.
Underdogs tag suits New Zealand's big hitters against Smith's favourites
LONDON // South Africa, the pre-tournament favourites, will get the first big test of their World Twenty20 title credentials when they meet the perennial challengers New Zealand at Lord's this evening. Both sides have sealed their advance to the Super Eight phase already, after making quick work of the minnows from Scotland. The Proteas were particularly harsh on their part-time opposition racking up 211 in a 130-run win. Graeme Smith, their captain, admitted his side wanted to lay down a marker to their would-be title rivals.
"We had a few more nerves after watching the first few days of the tournament, with the unpredictable results that went on," he said. "It was important to send a message and we did that. "We have played against New Zealand enough, especially in the one-day format to know they are very, very competitive. "Everybody contributes to their team and they are very well led by Dan Vettori. On their day they are a match for anybody, so we are going to prepare for them like we would do any other opponent.
"The big thing for us is making sure we play our own game. If we can do that we will be a challenge for any team in this tournament." Amazingly for a side boasting the fire-power of Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor, Scott Styris, Jacob Oram and Jesse Ryder, New Zealand have barely warranted a mention when it comes to title-contenders so far. According to Taylor, the batting power-house, New Zealand's players are always happy flying under the radar.
He said: "It is going to be a tough game against the tournament favourites, but we like being the underdogs. We are used to it. "They are a good all round side. They have a well balanced side and cover all their bases." The Proteas exceeded a run-rate of 10 an over in their romp to victory against Scotland. The day before, New Zealand notched up 90 from just six overs against the same opposition, and Taylor says they are unlikely to be fazed by any target. "More often than not you just go out there and express yourself," he added. "Obviously, when you are chasing 12 an over from ball one there is not much playing yourself in.
"We knew we didn't want to take Scotland lightly, but the way they came out and played was good to see. If we had batted first and got 90 we would have been happy with that. To be chasing that was a little bit too many, but luckily we got there in the end." Vettori, the left-arm spinner who is rated as the 20-over game's premier slow-bowler, underwent a scan on his injured shoulder last night and hopes to be fit to return today. Andy Moles, the New Zealand coach added: "We believe that when we play well we can beat anybody. We have to make sure that we perform our skills to the best of our ability."
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