South Africa lost to New Zealand in the first semifinal on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. They batted well, bowled their heart out and threw themselves on the field but in the end Grant Elliot denied them. In a match that went to the very edges of pure thrill and kept spectators guessing until the last over, South Africa had to yield to the passionate New Zealanders. The two teams entered the tournament with tags of favorites but the fact that they had to face each other in semifinal meant that only one would go to Melbourne for the final scheduled for March 29, 2015. Auckland’s Eden Park was a sea of humanity, most of them die-hard New Zealand fans but all of them had to keep biting their nails because it could not be known as to which side would finally emerge victorious.
Eden Park saw scenes of rare excitement, breathtaking sighs, eerie silence and heart-stopping frenzy, like of which had never before gripped spectators. In a high stake encounter between two teams, none of which had ever entered a World Cup semifinal, expectations ran high. New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum showed how offensive batting could kill the best of bowling attacks. Earlier his counterpart on the other side, de Villiers also demonstrated his tenacity in taking his side to a challenging total and his vibes were picked up by David Miller in a short but extremely fruitful stay. But when South Africa fielded, de Villiers got too carried away. He missed a straightforward run-out opportunity, dropped a few catches and threw himself desperately on the ground. Some of the late stages fielding lapses by South Africa probably cost them the match. But that should not take the credit away from Grant Elliot, who played an innings of his life in sheer determination of taking New Zealand to their maiden World Cup final. A rain disruption had brought in Duckworth/Lewis scenario with New Zealand needing 298 from 43 overs. It was too stiff a target but New Zealand still crossed it with Elliot playing a heroic knock that culminated in victory, when he lofted Dale Steyn over mid-on for a towering six and brought unbridled celebratory frenzy at the Eden Park.
When AB de Villiers won the toss, South African supporters got enthralled. Like New Zealand, South Africa also credited themselves with some huge totals in this World Cup but on March 24, their innings had an inauspicious start. Hashim Amla had played 14 balls for his 10 runs and in trying to force an in-swinger from Trent Boult, he got an edge that crashed on his stumps in the 4th over. In the 8th, Boult took out Quinton de Kock, when the nervous opener swung his bat, got a thick edge and Tim Southee didn’t have to move an inch at third man. 31/2 at that stage showed New Zealand bowlers command. Afterwards, Rilee Rossouw and Faf du Plessis played conservatively and could carve out an 83-run third wicket stand but they had reached the 27th over for just 114/3. The scenario changed soon with the entry of AB de Villiers. With du Plessis, the ferocious Villiers added 103 runs in just 12 overs before du Plessis fell for a 107-ball 82. David Miller joined his captain and produced a whirlwind 45 off just 18 balls before getting out. Villiers and Duminy could add just 9 runs to take the score to 281/5 in D/L limit of 43 overs. South Africa apparently, came out losers in 38th over, when the rain came. At that point, batting was in full flow with de Villiers in murderous form. On resumption, du Plessis got out but Miller and de Villiers added 65 in 5 overs, mainly because of Miller’s 45 off 18 balls. AB de Villiers didn’t get much strike and he remained unbeaten on a 45-ball 65 as South Africa finished at 281/5 in 43 overs.
The Duckworth-Lewis equation required New Zealand to score 298 for victory in 43 overs. The Kiwis began with Brendon McCullum’s fearsome swing of the bat. While Martin Guptill watched from other end, McCullum stymied South Africa’s attack by forceful batting. In a blink, the New Zealand skipper plundered 59 off 26 balls and left the crease as the first wicket for South Africa at 71/1 in 7th over. In 9th over, Morne Morkel got rid of Kane Williamson and that brought about a grinding decline in the rate of scoring. After McCullum’s explosive start, Guptill and Ross Taylor could only add 47 in about 8½ overs, when Guptill got run out to a poor understanding with Taylor. When Taylor also left in the 22nd over, New Zealand had progressed to 149/4. It wasn’t so bad considering they had already reached the halfway mark with 21 overs remaining. At this juncture, Corey Anderson and Grant Elliott took center-stage and added 103 runs in 16 overs before a mishit from Anderson travelled to moon. As the ball was coming down, Faf du Plessis ensured that he would not drop it for the world. He came up with a fantastic catch to bring South Africa back into the game.
Now it all came down to 46 off 31 balls but after playing 7 balls for his 8 runs, Luke Ronchi holed out to deep square-leg. With 29 were needed off 17 balls, Daniel Vettori joined Elliott. In a big slice of luck for the hosts, Elliott got away, when Behardien and Duminy collided in trying to catch Elliott’s skier off the last ball of 42nd over. Now as 12 runs were required from 6 balls, they ran a bye off the first ball. Dale Steyn was seen limping and a physio appeared on the field. When Steyn bowled next, Vettori struck a boundary and scampered for a single to make it 5 required of last 2 balls with Elliott on strike. Then came the crowning glory for Elliott as he sent a Steyn delivery flying into the stands beyond mid-on and New Zealand entered a World Cup final for the first time ever.
There were scenes of frenzy all around as emotions took over the South Africans. They sat slumped on the grounds, some of them crying uncontrollably while the New Zealand supporters had a blast as Elliott became an instant hero in an extraordinary home campaign for his team.
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