The match that cricket won

cricket

What did South Africa do to deserve this?

The run-out that AB de Villiers missed when he could have sent Corey Anderson packing? Of all the days that the world’s best limited overs player had to miss a run-out was on the day of the semi-finals.

Or was it the chance that slipped through Quinton De Kock’s hands when the match could have gone either way? Grant Elliot set off for a risky second. Rossouw threw the ball from the deep and De Kock’s hands were thinking faster than his brains. All he had to do was wait for the ball and take the bails off. But the throw was a little too full and he took the bails off without the  ball in his hands.

14 runs required off 7 balls. Grant Elliot pulled and got a massive outside edge. The ball was all set to fall somewhere between deep backward point and deep square leg. Behardian was rushing in.Unknown to him, JP Duminy too was rushing in and didn’t take his eyes off the ball. And tonight, that’s a fatal mistake. Just as the ball seemed to land in Behardian’s palms, Duminy collided into him and the ball tumbled out of his  palms.

Had South Africa dropped the World Cup, again? Or did they choke, again?

The answer is a resounding no. But no side deserved to lose. It was that kind of a match.

South Africa were trying to exorcise so many ghosts that they must have lost count. The ’92 semi-finals when Duckworth Lewis rained on their party, leaving them with 22 to get off 1 ball. The ’99 semi-finals, where all they needed was one run to get off 4 deliveries after Lance Klusner had struck Damien Fleming for two boundaries. Then Lance Klusner ran and Allan Donald, his partner at the other end, decided to watch the ball instead of Klusner and stuck to his crease like super-glue. The 2003 edition when they played at home and lost to a horrible miscalculation, falling short by 1 run, again.

What is with South Africa and its obsession with 1 run? 22 required off 1 delivery in ’92. Lost the semi-finals by 1 run in ’99. Needed just 1 run to qualify in 2003, but settled for a tie thinking they had qualified.

New Zealand were trying to exorcise ghosts of their own. Semi-finalists 5 times, the final hurdle had proved too steep a mountain for them to scale. On a summer’s day in Auckland, they would be afforded that chance in front of over 4o,000 delirious fans.

How differently do you play a game when you know history is in the balance?

South Africa won the toss and chose to bat. It was a sedate start, the New Zealand bowlers keeping them in check before Faff Duplessis and De Villiers turned the tide. Just as South Africa looked to push the pedal, a familiar enemy rained down on them. Haven’t South Africa made peace with Duckworth Lewis yet? They seem to be like a ghost that hovers around them whenever a crunch match is in the offing. Faff Du Plessis scored an invaluable 82. Can AB de Villiers get any better? When he gets going, he is like a painter trying to use every colour on offer, a musician who wants to touch upon every note ever invented. Where do you bowl to AB de Villiers when he is on song? You can’t, you just hope he hits the wrong note. David Miller rose to the occasion and went on overdrive from the word go, smashing 49 off just 18 to place South Africa a perch above their opponents. It was an innings so brutal that AB de Villiers was finding ways of giving him the strike. When 281 became 298 following the D/L ,South Africa, it seemed, had made peace with Duckworth Lewis.

But the peace was short-lived.

Out came the energizer bunny dressed as Brendon McCullum. One by one they came, like lambs to the slaughterhouse. Philander went for 18, Morkel for 14 and Steyn for 24. Who comes down to the world’s fastest bowler in the first ball of the fourth over and smashes him over his head for a six in a semi-final. Brandon McCullum, that’s who. The energizer bunny left everyone gaping and if he had kept going, the match would have slipped out of South Africa’s grasp at the speed of light. McCullum decided that taking the foot off the pedal was too much effort and perished attempting a big one too many. But his wicket wasn’t in vain, his onslaught allowing his team mates to go about their jobs without being overwhelmed by the run rate. Martin Guptill wasn’t allowed an encore of his heroics in the previous match, setting off for an ill-fated run and giving away his wicket. It took the pair of Grant Elliot and Corey Anderson to steady a slightly rocky ship with  103 run partnership for the 5th wicket. The required rate appeared steep but with six wickets in hand, an acceleration was always on the cards. When Anderson fell in the 46th over, the match seemed to be in the balance.

The last few overs were the ones that made you realise why you watched sport in the first place, every delivery sending you closer to the edge of your seat. It was that kind of match where having a winner seemed sacrilegious. But sport doesn’t allow for that kind of wishful thinking.

12 runs required off 6 balls. Dale Steyn steamed in. Vettori smashed a four on the offside and took a single of the next ball.  5 required off 2. In those few moments, Grant Elliot’s mind must have been  doing a tap dance. Should I go for a big one? If I take a single, does Vettori have it in him to play the shot of his life? If it’s a yorker, should I leave it all to the final delivery? The Dale Steyn bowled a length delivery and Elliot stepped back in his crease and sent the ball over long on and into the crowds. The stadium rose to its feet. The whole of Auckland exploded in a haze of fire crackers and tears. On the field, the South African players dropped down, gutted. Time stood still for a few moments.

It was a match that would have made Rudyard Kipling proud. For both sides filled the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run.

Obviously gutted, AB di Villiers hoped South African fans would be proud of their team. You did much, much better, AB. This isn’t a match where the scorecard tells the whole story.

It was a match where two teams gave it their all, no sledging, no pushing and shoving.

It was a game for the ages.

It was a match that made the game of cricket proud.

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