By John Mehaffey
AUCKLAND (Reuters) – South Africa captain AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis shared a fourth-wicket partnership of 103 from 73 balls to power their team to an imposing 281 for five in a rain-reduced World Cup semi-final against New Zealand at Eden spoPark on Tuesday.
The co-hosts were set 298 to win from 43 overs on the Duckworth-Lewis system after a rain break five minutes short of two hours. Neither side has ever played in a World Cup final.
De Villiers, who was dropped on 38 by Kane Williamson at short cover off Corey Anderson in the first over of the batting powerplay, was unbeaten on 65 while du Plessis anchored the innings with a composed 82.
David Miller then smashed 49 from 18 balls, including consecutive sixes off Anderson, in the remaining five overs after the break.
New Zealand made an impressive start after de Villiers opted to bat following heavy overnight rain.
Openers Hashim Amla (10) and Quinton De Kock (14) fell cheaply to Trent Boult who broke Geoff Allott’s New Zealand record of 20 wickets at the 1999 World Cup.
De Kock had a life on 10 when wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi, diving to his left, could get a fingertip only to an edge off Boult which sped to the boundary.
In the next over from Southee, Amla mistimed a hook which hung tantalisingly in the air before falling short of Boult running around from long-leg.
New Zealand’s luck changed in Boult’s following over. Amla pushed his bat at a full delivery without moving his feet and the ball took the inside edge and crashed on to the stumps.
De Kock looked tentative throughout his brief innings against the swinging ball and it was no surprise when he sliced Boult high to Southee at third man who did not have to move.
Matt Henry, replacing the injured Adam Milne, bowled with high pace and accuracy as McCullum increased the pressure with three slips and a gully.
But Boult’s seventh over went for 12 runs and McCullum turned to Daniel Vettori to reimpose some control.
Henry was rested after his opening five overs had cost only nine runs as South Africa consolidated.
The sun emerged briefly and du Plessis off-drove two boundaries in a Southee over and struck Grant Elliott back over the bowler’s head for the first six of the game.
The partnership between Rossouw and Faf du Plessis had reached 83 when McCullum introduced Anderson. The first ball to Rossouw was a wide and the second flew off the shoulder off the bat to backward point where Martin Guptill leaped to his right to hold the catch in his fingers.
Du Plessis reached his half-century from 85 balls and celebrated by lofting Henry straight back over his head for six. De Villiers started to collect boundaries at the other end as the South Africans started to accelerate.
The 50-partnership came off 44 balls and De Villiers struck Anderson for 14 runs off three balls immediately after he was dropped by Williamson who failed to cling on to a fierce drive.
De Villiers was in full flow now before the players left the field after the 38th over when rain blew in over the stadium.
After the teams returned Anderson dismissed du Plessis caught off his gloves down the leg side by Ronchi when McCullum asked for a review after umpire Ian Gould had signalled a wide.
But the New Zealand jubilation was cut short when left-hander Miller climbed into their bowling and 65 came off the final five overs.
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)