Cricket: Contest delivered some valuable lessons

As they hunkered down in their Napier bolthole preparing to face Afghanistan, New Zealand could have done worse than to advance scout the clash at Eden Park between South Africa and Pakistan.

There's a (receding) chance New Zealand could face Pakistan in a quarter-final and, if that is safely negotiated at Wellington, South Africa back here in the semifinal.

They will have learned yesterday that Pakistan remain mercurial, a collection of hard-to-define, often exasperating talents. They would have also learned that South Africa are a fine side, but not necessarily the total package - they have few obvious weaknesses but last night showed they are prone to nerves.

It was a massive surprise that Pakistan had South Africa under the cosh for long periods and, were it not for a disastrous return from a rain break, when they lost their last five wickets for 25, might have won more easily.

Pakistan have been bit of a shower at this tournament with ageing veterans that look to be on the slide and youngsters who looked to be playing without confidence. If Imran was in charge of the 'Cornered Tigers' in 1992, the inscrutable Misbah-ul-Haq looked to be leading the 'Cornered Lambs'.

The very mention of '92 should be enough to throw a few jitters into New Zealand cricket fans should they meet Pakistan in a knockout match and the side from the subcontinent have a seam attack that can cause problems.

They certainly did to South Africa, knocking the top off the vaunted lineup with something approaching ease. That must be a worry for South Africa - twice they have come up against subcontinental sides at this tournament and twice their batting has faltered. They are still in pole position to finish second in Pool B, but are starting to have an air of the flat-track bullies about them.

Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel are formidable and Vernon Philander should be back, but the key to their success or otherwise is legspinner Imran Tahir. Get to him early and hard and the balance of South Africa's attack is thrown off.

Yesterday AB de Villiers resorted to bowling himself and JP Duminy. De Villiers is known as a sporting polymath, able to turn his hand brilliantly to anything from rugby to golf to tennis. Bowling, however, is not a strong suit.

South Africa's batsmen have been in fine form of late. But the batting relies heavily on the twin talents of Hashim Amla and de Villiers. Amla is steadily building a case to be regarded as the GOAT when it comes to one-day batting, yet some would argue he is not even the best batsman in his team, let alone Greatest Of All Time.

Should New Zealand meet South Africa in an Eden Park semifinal, they have convinced one learned Australian that they will win. Writing on Cricinfo yesterday, former test spinner Ashley Mallett, a noted thinker on the game, established New Zealand as World Cup favourites.

"New Zealand are going to be the side to beat in this competition. The way they are playing, they deserve every accolade, and I can visualise [Brendon] McCullum raising the World Cup aloft at the end of the proceedings," wrote Mallett.

By Dylan Cleaver at Eden Park

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