Shah owes his livelihood to driving a taxi in Hamilton, but he owes his loyalty to Afghanistan. And he reckons the World Cup could see some surprises.
“Scotland have been playing good cricket, so I don’t know if we will beat them,” he said yesterday, as his cab sped along the road that weaves through farmland to connect Hamilton’s airport to this sleepy city in the Waikato region of New Zealand’s North Island.
“But Zimbabwe! If we were in the same group we could have beaten Zimbabwe – just like we did before.”
Yes. And no. Afghanistan won two one-day internationals against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo last July. But only after the home side had won the first two.
Shift the paradigm and it is clear why South Africa will have an unusually confident Zimbabwean team on their hands in their World Cup clash at Seddon Park on Sunday.
The sides have met in 36 completed ODIs of which the Proteas have won 34 – a truth that will be far removed from the Zimbabweans’ minds.
Instead they will be focused on those two lonely victories.
“We’ve done it before,” they will tell themselves. “We can do it again.”
It is a decent enough theory if the idea is to put a spring in the step of a team heading over the boundary and onto the field, but putting it into practice will take a leap of faith.
The complication for South AfriRecord P2 W1 L1 (1992 and 1999) Highest totals For: 185 (Chelmsford – May, 1999) Against: 233-6 (Chelmsford – May, 1999) Lowest totals For: 164-3 (Canberra – March, 1992) Against: 163 164-3 (Canberra – March, 1992) Highest scores For: Kepler Wessels 70 (Canberra March, 1992) Against: Neil Johnson 76 (Chelmsford – May, 1999) Best bowling For: Brian McMillan 3-30 (Canberra – March, 1992) Against: Neil Johnson 3-27 (Chelmsford – May)
– ca is that their opponents on Sunday might have done exactly that.
Zimbabwe have not lost any of the five games they have played in New Zealand since February 2.
They reeled off three victories against Northern Districts and when their World Cup warm-up against New Zealand on Monday was washed out, the home side had been reduced to 157-7.
In another warm-up on Wednesday, Zimbabwe chased down a target of 280 to beat Sri Lanka by seven wickets.
South Africa, by contrast, had to find a way past the eight-ball to beat Sri Lanka by five wickets on Monday. Two days later, they crashed to New Zealand by 134 runs.
AB de Villiers missed the first of those games with a hip injury. Dale Steyn was rested for the second, in which Hashim Amla did not bat. But South Africa’s excuses run out right there.
Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews did not bat against Zimbabwe, but Mahela Jayawardene did not take guard against South Africa.
Meanwhile, the same New Zealand top four who took 217 runs off South Africa’s attack could score only 125 against Zimbabwe – 100 of them by Martin Guptill.
Results of warm-up games are, as the Proteas have protested, irrelevant. But that does not hide the glaring truth that they have played shoddy cricket for much of their two games.
Not so Zimbabwe. South Africa should beat them . . . but there is a taxi driver somewhere who knows otherwise.
ý Hours after the Proteas squad arrived yesterday in Hamilton, Dale Steyn summed up the place succinctly.
“New Zealand’s Hamilton,” Steyn posted on social media as a caption to a photograph of two people sitting on a public bench, “has many similarities to SA’s Kimberley . . .”
The picture had been taken from behind the two figures, peering down the street looking for a bus. So far, so ordinary – except that one of them had exposed at least 15cm of naked plumber’s crack to the world.
Seddon Park, where South Africa play their first World Cup match on Sunday, also has a touch of the ribald about it.
The ground is named for New Zealand’s longest-serving prime minister, Richard John Seddon (1893-1906). His nickname? “King Dick”.
All that said, Seddon Park is a proper cricket ground in a country where the game often has to share premises with rugby.
South Africa have played just two one-day internationals there.
They beat West Indies by 14 runs in February 1995 and had a game against New Zealand in October washed out.