Cricket World Cup: SA bow out in emphatic style

Cricket World Cup: SA bow out in emphatic style

South Africa fell agonisingly short of a place in the World Cup final, losing by four wickets to New Zealand in Auckland. It was a semi-final to remember; in the end, too much fire was clearly not good for the Proteas. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Questionable selection, basic errors, rain and a superb innings under pressure from a man who couldn’t crack the South African team saw the Proteas bow out of the 2015 Cricket World Cup on Tuesday. New Zealand clinched a four-wicket win, with just one ball remaining, in one of the most memorable semi-finals the World Cup has ever produced. Grant Elliot hit a match-winning, unbeaten 84 off 73 as the Black Caps chased down a Duckworth-Lewis adjusted target of 298 to send them to a World Cup final for the first time. They will now face either Australia or India, who square off in their semi-final match on Thursday.

Very few other sports takes the watcher on such an emotional rollercoaster for such an extended period of time. If South Africa won the toss and chose to bat, they would have been quietly confident. After all, it’s their chasing that has let them down so often in this tournament. The stats at Eden Park, though, are very much in favour of the teams chasing in recent years; still, South Africa decided to play to their strength. Their team selection, though, was somewhat curious. Vernon Philander had returned from injury and replaced Kyle Abbott, who has been one of South Africa’s best bowlers this tournament. Rilee Rossouw was roped in to fill in for Farhaan Behardien, meaning South Africa would have to rely on part-timers to make up the overs, but that would only come back to haunt them much later.

Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla both departed early, but Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers joined forces for a crucial partnership. Together, they put on 103 runs in just 12.1 overs, but Mother Nature had other plans. In Africa, rain is considered a blessing, but on Tuesday, it was a curse for South Africa. The heavens opened deep into the latter part of the South African innings and halted the charge. South Africa had looked set for posting 350 and for the first time this tournament, New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum was looking somewhat shell-shocked. But the rain offered the hosts time to re-assess and re-group. Not long after the players stepped back out onto the field, the number of overs now reduced to 43, Du Plessis was dismissed. De Villers, meanwhile, had slowed down to a crawl.

The South African captain contributed just five of the 65 runs added after the rain break. While David Miller finally showed why he is given role of “finisher” with a blitzkrieg 49 off 18, De Villiers was taken out of the game completely.

Still, the target seemed imposing enough and considering that, before today, McCullum averaged just 7.28 from eight innings in knockout matches, with 51 runs in total and a high score of 17, South Africa would have fancied their chances. McCullum rewrote the history books, though, and got his side off to a cracking start, whacking 59 off 26 as New Zealand raced to 70 off just six overs. But the see-saw ride was far from over. Partnerships was the difference for the Black Caps. Even as South Africa continued to pick at the seams, they continued to restitch partnerships, the most impressive of those the Corey Anderson-Grant Elliot pairing. They put on 103 runs in 16.2 overs for the fifth wicket as a combination of misfielding, missed run outs and a struggle for balance saw South Africa undone.

Philander did not manage to last the whole match, which will raise questions whether he really was fit enough to start at all. Steyn, too, was struggling with a niggle and has often gotten things wrong when he’s down on pace. He conceded 76 runs, more than the fifth bowling pair of JP Duminy and AB de Villiers, but many will be wonder “what if” Abbott was there?

The final four overs were tense. Anderson had just been dismissed, Luke Ronchi had stepped out to the middle and the pressure on Elliot was building. With three overs to go, Ronchi was dismissed and Eden Park collectively held its breath as 23 runs were needed from 12 balls with four wickets in hand.

A boundary, a missed catch and a mid-pitch collision all added to the intrigue in the penultimate over and Steyn had 12 runs to defend off just six balls and Daniel Vettori on strike. A couple of singles, a streaky four, a bye and, eventually, a six of the second last ball of the innings off Elliot’s bat marked the end of a spectacular match.

By the end of it all, Morkel was in tears, inconsolable and clearly distraught. Elliot was picking Steyn up from the pitch. The emotion from the rest of the players was equally visible and, for once, South Africa can hold their heads up high for what they managed to achieve. New Zealand have been trying since 1975 to make it to a World Cup final, South Africa have only been trying since 1992. That’s 39 years and six semi-final losses in years gone by. It might be cruel to this generation of South Africans, one of the best teams they have ever had, but their time will come. DM

Photo: New Zealand’s Grant Elliot (R) helps South Africa’s bowler Dale Steyn up after New Zealand won their Cricket World Cup semi-final match in Auckland, March 24, 2015. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps


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