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South Africa to play Zimbabwe in rivalry that gets personal

February 14, 2015

HAMILTON, New Zealand (AP) — While his South Africa lineup is an overwhelming favorite to open its World Cup campaign with a win over Zimbawe, captain AB de Villiers knows the danger that the likes of Brendan Taylor can pose because the pair have a personal rivalry stretching back two decades.

Zimbabwe, for its part, is hoping it can continue the form that helped it cruise to victory over Sri Lanka in a warm-up match this week. A win Sunday over its much larger African neighbor, which overshadows Zimbabwe not only in sports but also in politics and wealth, would be especially savored by the nation of 14 million.

Zimbabwe has beaten South Africa only twice in 37 one-day international matches dating back to 1992. With one match finishing without a result, that’s given South Africa a daunting 94 percent win rate. Yet the rivalry remains fierce between the only two African nations in the tournament.

“They’re a dangerous side,” de Villiers said Saturday. “They’ve come a long way and I think they’re under good leadership at the moment from the captain and the coach. So definitely a side to be reckoned with.”

De Villiers said he believes he first played Taylor, now a close friend, in a match for under 11-year-olds.

“He’s just always been that thorn in the side for us, growing up,” de Villiers said. “And he’s still a great, great player and he’s done so well in his career. So lots of credit to him. We are well aware of his capabilities.”

Taylor scored 63 this week and Hamilton Masakadza posted 117 in a warm-up match as Zimbabwe easily overtook Sri Lanka’s 279, with seven wickets and four overs to spare. Captain Elton Chigumbura said the win gave his team a boost, particularly because the top-order batsmen performed so well.

“It gives us a lot of confidence,” he said. “It gives us a lot of the belief that we do need as a team, that it’s possible to beat a big team.”

Zimbabwe’s bowlers also performed well in another World Cup warm-up match, reducing New Zealand to 157-7 before the match was called off due to rain.

Chigumbura said he could understand why people considered Zimbabwe a minor team these days, given some of its poor results in recent years.

“But I believe in this tournament, if we play our best cricket, the tables will change,” he said.

South Africa will be eager to get off to a solid start as the team tries to rid itself of the choker label, which has dogged it after it has failed to win a single World Cup knockout game in four tournaments, despite its regular status among the top title contenders.

Key to South Africa’s hopes this time are their star batsmen de Villiers, who is averaging 52 in limited-overs internationals, and the remarkably consistent Hashim Amla, who is averaging 56. The team also boasts a fiery fast bowling attack led by Dale Steyn.

De Villiers said the squad is mostly settled, aside from a question mark over the fitness of all-rounder Farhaan Behardien, who hurt his back in a warm-up game.

“It will obviously be a bit of a difficult one if he doesn’t play, whether we put an extra batter in or an all-rounder or a frontline bowler,” he said.

Zimbabwe, which has produced some upset results at World Cups, has only managed to bowl out South Africa four times in ODIs, and one of those was at a World Cup game in 1999. The other times were in 1995 and twice more in August 2014.

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