Cricket World Cup 2019: South Africa return to scene of heartbreak, against bogey team New Zealand
Faf du Plessis' South African cricket team need to beat New Zealand. © AFP

BIRMINGHAM: Ahead of match 25 of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 at Edgbaston, the references to the significance of this clash between New Zealand and South Africa is not lost on anyone.

South Africa’s campaign is floundering. New Zealand are second on the table. They, and India, are the only teams unbeaten in the World Cup. South Africa are back at Edgbaston for their first World Cup match since that semi-final against Australia in 1999.

The last time South Africa beat New Zealand in a World Cup match was – wait for it – 20 years ago. At Edgbaston, of all places.

If there’s one team they probably wouldn’t want to meet in a World Cup knockout, it is New Zealand. In the last two World Cups, New Zealand knocked out South Africa. In the 2011 quarter-final in Dhaka, they won by 49 runs. In the 2011 semi-final, they edged an epic with one delivery left.

(ALSO READ: Cracker awaits as South Africa meet New Zealand in Birmingham)

And now, at Edgbaston on Wednesday, New Zealand could eliminate South Africa from the 2019 World Cup. Faf du Plessis’ team has three points, and four matches left. They need to win all four to end up with 11 points, which theoretically could put them into the World Cup semi-finals if other results go their way.

South Africa flew into the World Cup under the radar, and have lost to England, Bangladesh and India, beaten only Afghanistan and taken a solitary point from a washout against West Indies. They are in a must-win situation.

Just like the last World Cup match they played in Birmingham, two decades ago. A loss from which, no matter what anyone from South Africa says, the fabric of South African cricket has not fully recovered.

Allan Donald is run out and South Africa's World Cup ends in heartbreak
Allan Donald is run out and South Africa’s World Cup ends in heartbreak. © Getty

Quinton de Kock is anything but a philosopher when seated behind a microphone taking questions from reporters, and pressed to seek a reason why the Blackcaps have had South Africa’s number in the last four World Cups he could not put a finger on it.

(ALSO READ: ‘I missed the fricking ball’: Lance Klusener on 1999 semi-final)

“I think, if I knew, I would tell you. To be honest, I don’t know,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “I think I haven’t been part of all those other World Cups, just the one. So the way I see it, I’ve only been part of a team where they’ve beaten us once. Obviously, going into tomorrow, it’s a clean slate. We’re not worried how many times they’ve beaten us at a World Cup or how many times we’ve beaten them in a bilateral series. It just comes down to tomorrow, I guess.”

For Trent Boult, the Blackcaps do not feel like they own any psychological edge over South Africa.

“We haven’t spoken about it, no,” he said. “There have always been exciting games between New Zealand and South Africa over the past World Cups and past time that we’ve met each other. 2015, the semi-final at Eden Park was one of the greatest games that the Kiwis have played. It obviously got a lot of attention back home, and it was a cool one to be a part of it. We’re looking forward to facing them tomorrow, and I’m sure they’re eager and hungry to put in a good performance because it’s a big one for them too.”

Boult and de Kock played that thrilling semi-final in Auckland four years ago, in which New Zealand chased a Duckworth-Lewis revised target of 298 with one delivery left. He opened the bowling with Tim Southee, and took two wickets for 52 runs in eight overs. Asked to recall that thrilling victory, Boult said the emotions are vivid of a match that “did a lot for cricket in New Zealand”.

“I remember hoping like heck that I don’t have to bat, but here the little gazebo down there at Eden Park, when we saw the ball soar over the fence in the last couple of balls there, it was pretty ecstatic and a pretty cool feeling,” said Boult. “The crowd was awesome that followed that World Cup back home. I think it did a lot for cricket in New Zealand. It’s awesome to still be here representing and all those people that are proud to follow the Black Caps.”

For de Kock – and here you really don’t know whether he was being honest or putting up a facade – that loss at Eden Park did not stack up to the crunch situation that Mumbai Indians felt against Chennai Super Kings in the IPL final a couple of months ago.

“The second most at the moment. Obviously, this IPL final this year, that was up there,” he said. “But then Eden Park, obviously, Auckland, that was pretty intense, especially experienced it from a first time ever, that vibe that was going through the stadium. It was just so noisy. You’re just trying to concentrate, but it was tough to deal with it. Yeah, hopefully tomorrow we get a nice crowd in, and we can actually get some South African supporters in tomorrow.”

Trent Boult World Cup
Trent Boult: “There have always been exciting games between New Zealand and South Africa over the past World Cups.” (© ICC Business Corporation FZ LLC 2018)

In Boult’s estimation, New Zealand were treating this match as another league fixture, and not like one they need to win to eliminate South Africa.

“It’s not driving us in any respect. Every World Cup game, in my opinion, is a big stage, and it’s a chance for us to go out there and perform and show we can bring the game and the style that we play back home in New Zealand very well to test it against quality players in foreign conditions on a big stage in front of all these fancy cameras. So we can’t wait.”

The last time these two teams played in ODIs was 2017, when South Africa edged the series 3-2 in New Zealand. It was brought to Boult’s attention that there are murmurs of South Africa having a bit of a hold over his team.

“Mental advantage? I’m not really too sure. It’s a World Cup. It’s a funny place to be, I suppose,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a big game for them. It’s a must win in their tournament. We’ve been playing some good cricket, so we’re not going to dive into too much of what they’ve been saying, but, yeah, the boring answer of going out there and just taking them on is probably where I’m leading. Like I said, there’s been some great games played between us over the years, and I’m hoping tomorrow is going to be another one.”

Indeed, this match is shaping up to be a cracker. History tips New Zealand. Could this be the game that changes South Africa’s World Cup? It would be a fitting venue to do so.