Ground, hostile crowd biggest challenge for South Africa: Graeme Smith

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Auckland, March 23: Former South African skipper Graeme Smith believes a hostile crowd and a small Eden Park ground will be the two biggest obstacles that his country's side will face when they take on New Zealand in the first semi-final match of the cricket World Cup on Tuesday.

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Smith said South Africa will find it difficult to contain the in-form New Zealand batsmen on the small ground.

File picture of Graeme Smith

The distance to the ropes beyond each end of the pitch at the Eden Park is only 55 metres from the centre of the wicket whilst behind the batsman the boundary is only 45 metres away.

"The Eden Park ground may actually be the greatest challenge facing the Proteas on the day. The smaller field aided by a nation swept up in the euphoria of their team's success will undoubtedly serve to disrupt the visiting team," Smith said in a column written for International Cricket Council's (ICC) website on Monday.

"And the Proteas will know they need to settle into a rhythm as soon as possible to have any chance of progressing. Something which was definitely lacking against India."

The former left-handed opener also said the Proteas will be facing a dilemma in picking their third seamer with Vernon Philander and Kyle Abbott giving a good account of themselves in the tournament so far.

"The ball has been swinging more in New Zealand than it has in Australia this tournament hence the difficult choice facing the Proteas selectors when deciding on the identity of the third seamer.

"As opposed to Sri Lanka, who were especially destructive in the last ten overs, New Zealand have been chiefly severe on opposition attacks in the first ten overs," Smith observed.

He declined to name his preferred third seamer for the team but said the windy conditions in New Zealand may ultimately force the selectors to pick Abbott ahead of Philander.

"This may lead the selectors to opt for Philander's control as opposed to Kyle Abbott's aggression. However, the prevalence of conditions favouring swing may assist the latter's cause on the day."

Smith also believes that South Africa, eyeing their first ever World Cup final will take heart from the fact that both New Zealand openers have been quite unsuccessful against them.

"For all the hype around the two New Zealand openers, the Proteas will take heart from the fact that Guptill averages 11.5 against them in ten innings and McCullum 30.77 in 25 innings," he said.

Smith also said that though New Zealand look a well settled side, the chinks in their armour have already been exposed and he feels there is no reason why his former side cannot exploit that too.

"On the whole, the Black Caps XI is well balanced and settled and has been on the offensive since day one. They haven't doubted their strategy, execution or ultimate objective for a moment.

However, for all their strengths, chinks in their armour have also been exposed. Against Scotland and Australia they made relatively modest run chases look problematic and also snuck in against Bangladesh though chasing a slightly more imposing score," he said.

IANS

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