A match for the ages
It was the match the tournament has been crying out for – a genuine last-over thriller between two quality sides – and is destined to be remembered as one of the greatest, most dramatic showdowns in World Cup history. New Zealand is through to its first final after six previous semi-final losses, while South Africa must digest yet another heartbreaking exit.
The scintillating individual performances, the constant ebb and flow, the electric Eden Park atmosphere, the plethora of flashpoint moments and the extraordinary finish immediately wove this contest into the fabric of World Cup folklore. If this wonderful tournament hadn’t already rescued the supposedly embattled one-day game, this match was the categorical saviour of ODI cricket; Twenty20 could never produce the drama and emotion – or mean as much to so many – as Tuesday’s instant classic in Auckland.
South Africa won the toss and batted first. The Black Caps bowlers were on top early, before the dogged Faf du Plessis (82 from 107) and brilliant captain AB de Villiers (65 from 45) tipped the scales back in the Proteas favour. After a rain delay – a terribly ill-timed one for South Africa – David Miller’s unbelievable 49 from 18 carried the total to 5/281 off 43 overs, with the target revised to 298 via the Duckworth Lewis system.
Brendon McCullum’s blistering 59 off 26 set the platform for the Kiwis, but regular wicket losses – leaving them at 4/149 – had the match evenly poised again. Grant Elliott (84 not out) and Corey Anderson (58) put on a match-turning 103 for the fifth wicket, before Morne Morkel’s superb late spell halted their seemingly inevitable charge to victory. Needing 13 to win and 12 to tie (which was enough for the Black Caps to progress) off the last over from Dale Steyn, the talismanic Daniel Vettori squeezed a four and ran a couple of byes, then Elliott lifted the roof off Eden Park – and pubs and lounge-rooms throughout the Shaky Isles – with an incredible six to clinch a final berth on the second-last ball.
There were missed opportunities in both innings – New Zealand dropped several catches, while South Africa botched run outs and somehow missed a pair of gift-wrapped opportunities from Elliott in the dying stages.
The 36-year-old Elliott, South African-born and a controversial inclusion pre-tournament to add more subplots and sidebars to a match brimming with them, seized the moment.
— Sport News NZ (@NZStuffSport) March 24, 2015
South Africa’s tortured World Cup history is well-documented, but this wasn’t another choke – the Proteas were gallant in defeat. The rain delay did them few favours, but de Villiers’ side fought back repeatedly. The Duminy-Berhardien mix-up proved vital – but that’s the pressure a down-to-wire World Cup semi-final produces.
— Herald Sun (@theheraldsun) March 24, 2015
The feeling of genuine sympathy for the Proteas was palpable and the raw emotion that poured out afterwards was about as poignant as sport gets.
…and the ecstasy
What a moment. It simply doesn’t get any better than that and the unbridled jubilation was sensational to see.
— Test Match Special (@bbctms) March 24, 2015
Kiwis dare to dream
This is as big as anything to happen in New Zealand sport, and Elliott’s six arguably sits atop the pile of greatest moments for a proud sporting nation. Rugby union will forever be the national sport, but the All Blacks’ domination means that success is expected and met with relief rather than euphoria.
The groundswell of support for the Black Caps’ campaign has been a juggernaut from the beginning of the tournament, and has only gathered momentum through Kane Williamson’s six to sink Australia, Martin Guptill’s record-breaking quarter-final innings and now the heroics of the semi-final, the most important win in New Zealand cricket’s long-suffering history.
The reaction to the last-gasp triumph at the stadium and wherever Kiwis were watching the dramatic final stages highlights how much this tournament means to the nation.
There’s a sense of destiny about Brendon McCullum’s team – and a victory at the MCG on Sunday could potentially rank as New Zealand’s most treasured sporting achievement of all time.
Stud of the day
Grant Elliott will never pay for a beer again. Mr. Clutch.
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) March 24, 2015
The Black Caps sit and wait to see who their opponent in the final will be as Australia and India face off in one of the biggest World Cup grudge matches ever. A trans-Tasman final would top this epic tournament off, but unbeaten India represent a massive hurdle for the home side at the SCG. Another classic semi beckons.