Auckland: Martin Guptill’s double ton was the fillip New Zealand needed heading into their World Cup semi-final against South Africa, according to captain Brendon McCullum. At stake is an historic first appearance in the World Cup final with neither side having progressed past the semis in the past. New Zealand were forced to hastily rearrange their squad Monday after Adam Milne was ruled out with a left heel injury and Matt Henry was rushed up to Auckland.
But McCullum said they remained confident without their express bowler and the presence of Guptill after his colossal 237 not out against West Indies was an inspiration to the rest of the team. New Zealand have won four of their six previous World Cup clashes against South Africa, including the last three, but McCullum said history had no bearing on this battle for the right to play the winner of the second semi between India and Australia, taking place in Sydney on Thursday.
Much more relevant was the boost to his side of Guptill’s return to form. “To see it in such a crunch game as well and still display the same game plan which he trained so hard for was confirmation that obviously it can be done and that will flow on in terms of confidence for the rest of the squad,” he said. Guptill came into the tournament with a string of disappointing scores including two golden ducks against Sri Lanka but has progressively played his way into form.
His last three innings have been 57, 105 and 237 and McCullum expected more. “The game throws up its ups and its downs but you need to be able to remain reasonably level and go about your work. The way that ‘Gup’ was able to back up a really good hundred against Bangladesh and then to be able to turn in such an amazing performance as he did the other day shows that he certainly possesses those characteristics.
“He’s been a huge player for us in this tournament and I’d suggest he’s probably not quite done yet.” Guptill’s record against South Africa, however, is relatively poor with a total of 115 runs scored in 11 matches with a highest score of 58 in Napier in 2012. In five of his last six innings against the Proteas, he has been dismissed for single-figure scores. McCullum indicated the loss of Milne could cause a rethink of the balance of their line up with weather and pitch conditions to be taken into account. Mitchell McClenaghan, who stood in for Milne when he injured a shoulder before the Bangladesh game, offers bounce, veteran Kyle Mills brings in a miserly option while replacing Milne with Henry would be a like-for-like move.
McCullum did not expect conditions to be as they were when New Zealand ripped out Australia for 151. “It was obviously really humid during that game and we saw some high quality swing bowling. Tomorrow is meant to be a little less humid so we probably won’t see as much swing.” While South Africa skipper AB de Villiers has been piling the pressure on his side saying “no one can stop us”, McCullum preferred to take a more laid back approach. While declaring himself confident New Zealand would make the finals for the first time he was aware it may not happen.
“The game’s meant to be fun. Go out there, express yourself, enjoy the occasion, put our best foot forward and we’ll see where the cards fall after that,” he said, adding the real pressure came with the huge New Zealand public expectation to win their first knockout match against the West Indies at the weekend. “The way we dealt with the expectations of the last game and the pressure which that had in itself, that should hold us in reasonable stead,” he said. “I expect the team that is able to handle the crunch situations the best will come out on top but I expect the margin won’t be far between both teams.”