New Zealand and South Africa clash in the World Cup semi-finals at Auckland’s Eden Park on Tuesday hoping to end years of pain and near-misses.
Both sides, who between them have appeared in nine semi-finals without reaching the final, have met expectations by making the last four.
Lying in wait will be the winner of Thursday’s second semi-final in Sydney between India, defending the title they won in 2011, and Australia, who lifted the three preceding World Cups.
New Zealand have lost all six of their previous World Cup semi-finals, with South Africa falling at the same hurdle on three occasions.
But New Zealand coach Mike Hesson said he did not expect either side to be weighed down by past failures.
“I don’t think there’s any baggage with anyone,” he insisted. “It’s a one-off game and we’re all desperate to be at the big party and I’m sure we’ll both turn up. “Two sides are playing good cricket and it’s going to be a heck of a show.”
Their one common opponent in the tournament has been the West Indies, who South Africa clobbered in pool play by 257 runs after batting first and posting 408 for five.
New Zealand beat the West Indies by 143 runs in a Wellington quarter-final on Saturday after scoring 393 for six on the back of Martin Guptill’s World Cup record 237 not out.
South Africa emerged from their quarter-final against Sri Lanka with an overwhelming nine-wicket victory as they moved to dispel talk they are “chokers”.
Afterwards, defiant Proteas skipper AB de Villiers said: “I think we like being called chokers. We’ll just keep that tag and move along, as long as we keep winning.”
And the star batsman was adamant that, whatever else happened, his side would not crack under pressure.
“We are committed to the fact that we’re not going to show any weakness,” he said.
Proteas leg-spinner Imran Tahir’s four for 26 against Sri Lanka should raise a red flag for New Zealand’s talismanic opener and Captain Brendon McCullum, whose swash-buckling reputation carries a postscript that he is vulnerable to leggies. When New Zealand and South Africa met in a pre-tournament hit out, Trent Boult took five for 51 in a 134-run win over a Proteas side without key figures Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn.
South Africa won an one-day international series 2-0 against New Zealand without Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor late last year, and Hesson said that result was further skewed by South Africa being in full flight while New Zealand were just gearing up for the season.
“In September and October the pitches are different, we’d come out of a winter, they’d come out of a campaign,” said Hesson. “They hit us hard early and we didn’t respond well. We’re more match-hardened now.”
It was the start of a build-up that has seen New Zealand hit form at the right time with wins in their past nine games — they have never won 10 in a row — while South Africa were beaten by Pakistan in World Cup pool play.
Their crunch showdown takes place at Eden Park, whose drop-in pitch and short boundaries ought to favour batsmen, but where results show the 300 mark has been bettered only six times in ODIs.
Between them, New Zealand and South Africa provide half of the top 10 bowlers at this World Cup.
Boult is the leading wicket-taker with 19 and is joined by fellow Kiwis Daniel Vettori and Tim Southee with 15 scalps, the same as Tahir, while South Africa fast bowler Morne Morkel has 14.
Guptill, coming into form with back-to-back centuries is the second-highest run scorer with 498, with de Villiers in fourth place, a further 81 runs further back.
Although the bookmakers have South Africa as favourites, New Zealand have come out on top the last three times the teams have clashed at a World Cup.
However, the Black Caps were handed a setback on Monday when fast bowler Adam Milne was ruled out of the tournament with a left heel injury.
Late call-up Matt Henry will duel with seasoned international Kyle Mills and Mitchell McClenaghan to take Milne’s place.