Is AB de Villiers (Right) talking about South Africa's 'Mauka' in this crucial semi-final © Getty Images
Is AB de Villiers (Right) talking about South Africa’s ‘Mauka’ in this crucial semi-final © Getty Images

South Africa will take on New Zealand in the first semi-final match of the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, at the Eden Park in Auckland on Tuesday. Devarchit Varma points out a specific factor which could possibly play a huge role in South Africa’s bid to defeat New Zealand.

Back in 2012, when Graeme Smith-led South Africa embarked on the journey to England for a three-Test series, they roped in the famous explorer Mike Horn in their quest. Till then, Mike Horn had not proven to the South African men what difference he could bring in their cricket which was anyways far more qualitative compared to some of the other sides. Till then, Mike Horn had not assisted the Indian Premier League (IPL) side Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) to their second title win. Mike Horn had only helped the Indian cricket team overcome vast sea of challenges, pressure of handling and winning amid tremendous expectations from millions of Indians, and lifting the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. Preview: New Zealand vs South Africa Semi-Final

South Africa went to a trekking camp in the Alps in Switzerland before going to England, and once they were on the cricket field, their opponents were of no match at all. In the first Test, South Africa trounced England by an innings and 12 runs (wherein they amassed 637/2 declared) and won the third by 51 runs to become world No. 1 in the format. Certainly, the time spent with Horn, and the expedition helped South Africa improvise on the mental part, as there were not many occasions when England even looked like bouncing back.  ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, NZ vs SA: Teams eye maiden final appearance

Horn is someone who has done wonders with every cricket side he has been associated with. Be it India, his native land South Africa or even the KKR playing the slam-bang version of cricket — they all have witnessed a massive difference in the way they have gone about their business and the drastic changes seen in their mental preparedness and approach. We may realise it or not, the mental part of the game is far more significant than the skill set part, and this is where Horn can actually be a vital cog in this South African side and their quest to change history forever. ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, NZ vs SA: 10 match facts you must know

Mike Horn has changed fortunes of many teams, can he do it for South Africa as well? © Getty Images
Mike Horn has changed fortunes of many teams, can he do it for South Africa as well? © Getty Images

The difference with the current South African team can be seen immediately. The quarter-final round of the 2015 World Cup probably had only one contest that was a ‘must-watch game’ — South Africa vs Sri Lanka. After all, India, Australia and New Zealand were expected to prevail over Bangladesh, Pakistan and West Indies respectively, which they eventually did. Brendon McCullum’s unique appeal to NZ cricket fans ahead of semi-final against SA

Like in the first semi-final match, no one could actually pick the favourite to win the first quarter-final between South Africa and Sri Lanka. But then, the contest wasn’t expected to be a one-sided affair as it turned out to be. South Africa were all over Sri Lanka right from the word go, stopping the juggernaut in Kumar Sangakkara who was shattering records every day, and steamrolled their opponents to break the shackles of never winning a knockout match in the history of ICC tournaments.

South Africa were not only dominant, but they were ruthless, a trait of theirs which some their opponents fear. You don’t get to see South Africa playing such brand of cricket every day, but when they do, there is no match for them. Against Sri Lanka, the mental barriers were not merely broken but shattered in small little pieces — and the tag of ‘chokers’ was thrown away.

And if anyone in New Zealand is assuming South Africa’s mental disintegration in pressure situation in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 semi-final, he could be very wrong. The presence of Horn, who has survived in some of the toughest conditions on this planet as an explorer, is indomitable. It is like an unseen force on the cricket field — which takes you by surprise.

(Devarchit Varma is a reporter with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)