Centurion:Just two days into the 2009 ICC Champions Trophy and hosts and co-favourites South Africa are fighting for survival.
A surprise 55-run loss to inspired Sri Lanka in a rain-shortened opening match of the two-week 50-over tournament leaves the Proteas needing victory over New Zealand Thursday to remain in contention for a semi-finals slot.
And while the 'Black Caps' are not listed among the favourites to win the second most important ODI tournament after the World Cup, they did beat South Africa by 87 runs three years ago in a previous Champions Trophy clash.
"We got a good wake-up call against Sri Lanka and now we have to do a big turnaround and there is not much time to do it," admitted Proteas captain and batsman Graeme Smith.
South African critics have been quick out of the blocks and this can only add to the pressure facing a team desperate to shed a 'chokers' tag earned by reaching eight ICC tournament semi-finals and winning just one.
Most of all, Smith will expect his bowlers to come to the party after all but right-arm speedster Dale Steyn flopped against a Sri Lanka side that took full advantage and amassed 319 in 50 overs.
Young Wayne Parnell did take three wickets, but they proved extremely expensive with 79 runs conceded in 10 overs, and spinner Johan Botha was another to enjoy minimal success.
Smith leapt to the defence of left-arm fast medium operator Parnell: "Wayne is still young and it is inevitable that he is going to have ups and downs at international level."
The 'rust' issue also resurfaced after the Sri Lanka defeat with many questioning the wisdom of going into a major tournament not having played a competitive ODI match since losing to Australia in Johannesburg last April.
With Smith also under fire for bowling first on a run-friendly pitch, there will be no shortage of reasons why he and his team-mates desperately want to impress a public-holiday crowd at the 20,000-capacity SuperSport Park.
New Zealand skipper and slow left-arm bowler Daniel Vettori has his own worries, notably a batting line-up that has not delivered many runs of late, being bowled out for 119 and 155 in Sri Lanka.
"The lack of consistency in the batting is a worry and there may be a lack of competition for places. The team that steps up with partnerships will win this tournament," he predicted.
Vettori is wary of the wounded South Africans, believing they and defending champions Australia, fresh from a 6-1 thumping of England, are the best ODI teams in the world.
England complete Group B and launch their challenge for the two-million-dollar first prize Friday against Sri Lanka at the other Champions Trophy venue, the 30,000-capacity Wanderers stadium in Johannesburg.
New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (c), Shane Bond, Neil Broom, Ian Butler, Brendon Diamanti, Grant Elliott, Martin Guptill, Gareth Hopkins, Brendon McCullum, Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, Jeetan Patel, Jesse Ryder, Ross Taylor, Daryl Tuffey.
South Africa: Graeme Smith (c), Johan Botha, Hashim Amla, Mark Boucher, AB de Villiers, Jean-Paul Duminy, Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, Albie Morkel, Makhaya Ntini, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Roelof van der Merwe.