A rain-marred encounter, an ICC knockout match and a South African defeat. A familiar story can be retold using the three varied incidents in one. New Zealand beat South Africa by four wickets. This time, however, they didn’t choke; they fought and lost to a better team. While on one end history was repeated, with dejected faces and tears being shed by the menacing and brave, history was created at the other end as New Zealand made it to their first ever world cup final. Scenes of jubilation engulfed the Eden Park and the dressing room of the hosts. It was their first win in seven world cup semi-final matches.
The occasion was big in New Zealand. Skipper Brendon McCullum had made an appeal on Sunday asking the corporate bosses in New Zealand to come and cheer the side at the Eden Park. He had also pleaded them to allow their employees to take an off from work and support the Black Caps. There were 45,000 odd people who eventually turned up in the stadium.
It was a day when AB de Villiers couldn’t do everything. He scored an unbeaten 45-ball 65, but failed to get enough strike in the final overs. He tried rolling his arms over, but couldn’t bag a wicket. He dived once to effect a run-out, but made a mess of it. He dived again to stop a boundary, but fumbled and literally grovelled. He dived the third time, but went past the boundary rope and so did the ball.
Only thing that seemed to go his way was the toss. Without hesitation, he chose to bat first. McCullum would’ve also done the same too. Under these circumstances, it was unlikely that either sides were expecting a downpour. Given South Africa’s bitter experience with revised totals in world cups, chasing was always the safer option.
It seemed as if the decision had backfired on South Africa. Left-armer Trent Boult continued to trouble the openers with swing and pace. Hashim Amla tried to play away from the body and was undone early with his score on 10. Meanwhile, Quniton de Kock was facing a brilliant spell of fast bowling from Boult. He was beaten, he was teased, he was mocked for his inability to deal with the devil of the new ball.
Imran Tahir was brought in from the other end and the leggie did well to choke the Kiwi batsmen. Runs were brought under control, wickets continued to tumble at regular intervals. For a long period, no side held an advantage. New Zealand were 149 for four – needing as many more runs to win off 128 balls with Grant Elliot and Corey Anderson at the crease.
The pace with which the duo was batting, it didn’t seem they were in any trouble in the chase. South Africa had to find ways to stop their progress. When the moment came, de Villiers madea mess of an easy run-out chance. First he dislodged the bails, but the ball was not in his hand. He got hold of the ball and tried to hit the stumps – once, twice. But the stumps refused to get uprooted. His experiments allowed Corey Anderson to return safely to the crease.
But South Africa hit back, fought to make it a compelling contest. Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi were dismissed in quick succession. Even though the Kiwis were well past South Africa’s total, going by the standards of Duckworth and Lewis the target was higher. Daniel Vettori and Elliot were left with thae task of needing 12 runs off the last over to be bowled by Dale Steyn. It came down to five from two before the right-hander hit the ball outside the park. South Africa missed a couple of easy run-out chances, but they provided a brilliant display of cricket. The match lived upto its billing and the better side is set to make its maiden world cup final appearance.