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New Zealand relish semi-final: McCullum

International Sports

New Zealand gearsup for South Africa showdown New Zealand gearsup for South Africa showdown New Zealand will not be overawed by the chance to win a first World Cup semi-final, says captain Brendon McCullum.

The Black Caps, losers in six semi-finals, will have home advantage in Auckland when they meet a South Africa side who have also never made a final.

"The way we've been playing is pretty exciting," said 33-year-old McCullum.

"For us to win World Cups in crunch games, we need to remain true to that and I wouldn't expect that it will change on Tuesday."

New Zealand are one of only two teams in the tournament, along with defending champions India, to have won all seven matches they have played.

In the co-hosts' quarter-final win over West Indies, Martin Guptill made a World Cup record 237 not out, while their total of 393-6 was the highest in a knockout game.

"We talk a lot about this being the greatest time of our lives and the trip that we've been on so far has been one that we'll all remember," said opening batsman McCullum.

"The game is meant to be fun. Go out there, express yourself, enjoy the occasion, put our best foot forward, and we'll see where the cards fall after that."

South Africa lost twice in the group stage but won their first World Cup knockout match by defeating Sri Lanka by nine wickets in the quarter-finals.

Proteas captain AB de Villiers said he has paid no attention to New Zealand being deemed the favourites for the clash at Eden Park, which begins at 01:00 GMT on Tuesday, 24 March.

"It's silly to focus too much on the cricket they've played," said the 31 year-old batsman. "I believe if we play to our full potential, nobody is going to stop us in this tournament.

"If we play a good game of cricket we'll come out on top. We're that confident in our abilities as a cricket team. We've played some really good cricket in New Zealand. In the last five ODIs we've come out on top, and that's what we focus on now."

The winners will meet either Australia or India in the final in Melbourne on Sunday.

New Zealand will be without pace bowler Adam Milne, who has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament with a heel problem.

Matt Henry takes his place in the squad, with Mitchell McClenaghan most likely to come into the Black Caps XI.

"It's obviously disappointing because Adam has been outstanding for us in that third seamer role throughout the tournament," said McCullum.

South Africa still have a minor injury concern around seamer Vernon Philander, who has had a hamstring injury. But Philander was able to bowl in the nets on Sunday and might play at the expense of Kyle Abbott.

New Zealand beat South Africa at the quarter-final stage four years ago in a heated contest that resulted in three players being fined for their part in a verbal clash.

McCullum said both teams have "grown up" since then, while De Villiers said he "didn't have any grudges" and preferred to focus on his team's continued efforts to banish their "chokers" tag, having ended a 23-year wait for a knockout win by beating Sri Lanka.

"I'm not putting emphasis on that at this World Cup at all," said De Villiers. "I'm the guy who's got to answer those questions, and I don't mind doing that, but I know the squad is in a really good space.

"We've been through a lot of hardship in the past with our World Cup games, but we feel very fresh and ready for tomorrow and very excited."

Eden Park is one of the smaller venues used for the World Cup, with very short straight boundaries.

However, two of the matches played their so far have been low-scoring, with New Zealand chasing 152 to beat Australia by one wicket and South Africa falling 29 runs short of chasing 231 against Pakistan.

McCullum said it will be "great" to have a 40,000 partisan crowd backing his team, while De Villiers is drawing experience from the defeat by Pakistan.

"We definitely learnt some valuable lessons in that game," said De Villiers. "It's nice to get used to the angles of the field, little things like that.

"I think the crowd will be a big influence, so we need to make sure we deal with that."

Former South Africa captain Shaun Pollock:

"The South Africans were under pressure against Sri Lanka and ticked all the boxes. Now they have the challenge of beating New Zealand on their home ground. I know they have match-winners, but it's about they perform on the day."

Ex-South Africa captain Graeme Smith: "The Eden Park ground may actually be 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."

Former New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming: "As the captain that led New Zealand to the semi-finals in both 1999 and 2007, what advice would I give McCullum? Just keep doing what you are doing. The aggressive style of cricket the team is playing is a joy to watch and remains the way to go."

Ex-India captain Rahul Dravid: "The concern for South Africa is that lack of a fifth bowler. New Zealand will be able to put the fifth bowler under pressure and so that is likely to be key."

New Zealand have played in six previous semi-finals, South Africa have reached three. Neither team has ever made the final.

New Zealand's batsmen have scored 7.58 runs per over across the tournament in the mandatory powerplay, the highest of all 14 teams.

South Africa's bowlers have conceded 5.78 runs on average in the last 15 overs of the innings, another tournament best.

Five of the tournament's leading wicket-takers will be playing at Eden Park. Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Daniel Vettori of New Zealand, alongside South Africa's Imran Tahir and Morne Morkel.

New Zealand's Martin Guptill has 498 runs in the tournament, second only to Kumar Sangakkara (541). AB de Villiers is fourth with 417.

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