New Zealand fulfilled the dreams and desires of a nation today by coming back from the apparently dead to reach the final of the Cricket World Cup. At times it felt as if the entire population was in Eden Park to cheer on their team – indeed it was frequently as loud and vibrant as Eden Gardens, Kolkata - and they were rewarded handsomely.
With one ball left in a semi-final against South Africa that was strewn with error and exhilaration in equal measure, Grant Elliott struck a six over long on off the world’s number one fast bowler, Dale Steyn. It took New Zealand past their target of 298, required to over take their opponents’ 281 under the regulations a in rain-curtailed match.
Elliot, who finished on 84no from 73 balls, was the hero of the moment and he embodied a team who refused to concede defeat and played at times as though it was their destiny to make the final in Melbourne on Sunday. South Africa must have thought they had it in the bag when the Kiwis were 149 for 4 in the 22nd over with only 23 overs left following Brendon McCullum’s brutal assault at the start of the chase as he struck 59 from 26 balls.
Their own batting, led by A B De Villiers, had been electrifying. All they had to do was keep their nerve. But New Zealand, through Elliott and Corey Anderson rotated the strike skilfully and just enough boundaries to ensure that the total was never out of sight.
But when Anderson was out at the end of a wonderful 38th over from Morne Morkel which yielded only one run, the Kiwis were in a precarious state again. They needed 46 from five overs, 36 from four, 29 from three, 23 from two, and finally 12 from one. One the way Luke Ronchi came and went, Elliott was dropped fatefully at long leg as two anxious South African fielders collided.
Steyn, who held up for play for a minute for treatment to a hamstring injury, bowled the last over like the wind. But it helped Vettori squeeze him to point for four, They then scrambled a single. New Zealand needed four to tie which would have put them through because they finished higher in the pool.
Elliott, South African born and a contentious pick for this squad after not playing a one-day international for a year, does not hit much down the ground. But Steyn bowled on a good length and he took his chance, propelling the ball over long on.
Both sides looked stricken at the start by the gravity of occasion after South Africa chose to bat. The batsmen were agitated, the fielders anxious. There were two dropped catches before the third over was out but so incisive was the Kiwi’s bowling then that a breakthrough still seemed inevitable.
Trent Boult was irrepressible. There was but a hint of swing but a hint is all Boult needs. It was sufficient to beat Hashim Amla’s drive away from his body, the ball taking the inside edge on to the stumps and it successfully hemmed in Quinton de Kock who was persuaded into a intemperate drive which ended in the hands of third man.
From 31 for two after 7.5 overs some serious rebuilding was required. It was engineered largely by Faf du Plessis with assistance from Rilee Rossouw. They paved the way perfectly for what has become the traditional onslaught by de Villiers.
Recognising the importance of not losing more wickets to allow for the late innings thrash, the pair consolidated intelligently and diligently. De Villiers was missed twice but never missed a beat.
He reached his fifty from 32 balls, regulation for him, and he and du Plessis applied their foot permanently on the floorboards after the 30th over.
In the next eight overs the fourth wicket added another 87 runs. By this time it was beginning to look decidedly ominous for New Zealand and they would have been much more grateful than their opponents for the rain which interrupted and then curtailed the innings. Perhaps it made the difference but it was some chase and some occasion.
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