South Africa captain AB de Villiers believes that co-hosts New Zealand have a great chance of winning next year’s cricket World Cup.
The batsman claims that playing in familiar conditions with a home base supporting them will make the Kiwis a favourite to win their maiden World Cup trophy.
The South African skipper also highlighted the return of Daniel Vettori – who played against Scotland this week – as a big boost for the side as they prepare for the commencement of the competition next February.
De Villiers was speaking ahead of a three-match ODI series against the Black Caps that will help the Proteas adapt to the conditions in which they will contest next year’s World Cup.
South Africa and New Zealand have been drawn in separate pools for the tournament but de Villiers’ side will still play group games in Hamilton, Auckland and Wellington. The first one-dayer begins on Monday, and it will give both teams the opportunity to discover their best XI in preparation for appearances on the biggest stage in the sport.
And the South African skipper has paid his upcoming opponents plenty of compliments ahead of the ODI series.
De Villiers is quoted by ESPN Cricinfo as saying: “I would not call them dark horses. I would say one of the favourites.
"Always a very competitive ODI team. Playing on their home grounds in their country, they'll be even more competitive. We know what they are capable of, especially playing in these kinds of conditions. They haven't won a big tournament for a while so they must
be very motivated to do well. We are expecting a very competitive series.
"[They are] very used to the conditions over here in New Zealand and Australia. They will have a lot of home support with the games here, even in Australia as well. It is a short flight
over there. They will have a lot of people right behind them and wanting them to do well. Haven't won a World Cup so they will be desperate to do well."
The resurgence of iconic off-spinner Daniel Vettori could rejuvenate the side and give them a further boost when they begin their World Cup campaign against Sri Lanka in Christchurch on February 14.
The 35-year-old last played an ODI against England in June 2013 but has spent this year limiting himself to 20-over cricket and jet-setting around the globe to play in competitions like the Indian Premier League and Caribbean Premier League.
But a return for the New Zealand ‘A’ team earlier this week could be the first step towards a World Cup call-up. The bespectacled all-rounder scored 12 runs and returned 0-43 from the 10 overs he bowled against Scotland.
Back in January, Brendon McCullum’s side recorded a 4-0 series victory over India, whilst they were 2-1 victors the last time that South Africa toured at the beginning of 2013.
Victories over the big teams are going to be essential for progression through to the knockout stages of the tournament. New Zealand have been drawn in pool A, which also includes: England, Australia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Scotland.
But for a country that has made the semi-finals of the last two tournaments, a World Cup on home soil may be just what New Zealand require in order to finally win the coveted competition at the 11th attempt.