|NZ will need to overcome ring rust today|
It doesn't matter how much you spar in the gym, or hit bags, you can only fix ring rust by time in the ring. Often when you watch a boxing match between two top fighters, the first 2 rounds tell you very little about the way that the rest of the match will go, they only tell you who is the rustiest.
In this series, New Zealand have been rusty. Very rusty. The bowlers have not bowled the right lengths consistently. The fielder have missed at least 4 catches and 3 run outs. The batsmen have hit the ball to fielders rather than into gaps, and thrown away good starts.
South Africa, on the other hand, were playing 5 weeks ago. They look refreshed and eager. The bowlers have been (generally) hitting good lengths, and the batsmen have (generally) made the most of the starts when they have go them.
It's hard to suggest anything different is going to happen in Hamilton today. Amla had two lives before he got to 20, then he cashed in. His technique looks totally unsuited to opening the batting in New Zealand conditions (especially pre-Christmas), but his hand-eye co-ordination is so good that he dominates when he gets the chance. If New Zealand give him more opportunities through poor fielding, then he will (in all likelihood) do exactly the same in Hamilton.
Hamilton tends to be a difficult place to start batting. Matthew Hayden described it as the hardest place in the world to see the ball. However, he also carried his bat for 181 in a match there.
In the last 10 years about 59% of top order innings in Hamilton have scored 25 or less runs. That's on a par with the overall average (61%) but the interesting thing is that in the innings where a batsman reaches 25, they go on to do better. The overall average is 52.22 (so they get another 27.2 once they get to 25). The average in Hamilton is 58.35 (an extra 33.35). This is actually a very significant difference. Of the 132 grounds that have hosted ODI's in the past 10 years, only 5 have had more then 5 games and a higher average once a player gets to 25.
As a result, making the most of early chances is vital. It's where New Zealand's rustiness could come back to haunt them. Although, there is one thing that will work in their favour: the weather.
It is likely to rain in Hamilton today. As one of only two inland cities in New Zealand, it's one of the easiest places to forecast the weather for. The game is likely to get a small shower during the first innings, a small shower near the start of the second innings, and then be curtailed by rain. With the overhead conditions, both captains will probably want to bowl first, and that is likely to be an advantage. However, the rain is likely to mean that batsmen will have to re-start their innings after they get started, so the normal Hamilton pattern might not play ball.
If I had $50 to bet on this match, here's where it would go:
1. $10 on NZ to win at $2.45
It's almost always a better idea to bowl first in an ODI, especially when there's a breeze and cloud cover. This is simply because of winning the toss
2. 2 x $10 Over on any South African batsman that gets to 25.
They all have such good hand eye co-ordination that once they get to 25, they are likely to score more than 60. Watch the live betting, and go over whatever line the TAB offer.
3. 2 x $10 Under for any New Zealand batsman that gets to 25.
They are all looking so rusty, that it feels likely that they will throw it away. Other than Luke Ronchi.
(All odds accurate at time of writing from the NZ TAB)