- South Africa’s Francois Du Plessis dives to make his ground while batting against New Zealand during their Cricket World Cup semi-final in Auckland, New Zealand. (AP/Ross Setford)
SYDNEY: New Zealand defeated South Africa by four wickets on Tuesday (Mar 24) in one of the greatest World Cup matches ever played to win through to Sunday’s final as co-hosts Australia got ready for their last-four clash with defending champions India.
A rain-affected see-saw semi-final at Auckland’s Eden Park, eventually came down to New Zealand needing five to win off the last two balls.
But South Africa-born Grant Elliott, whose unbeaten 84 was a masterclass of batting under pressure, then stepped up to inflict more World Cup semi-final misery on his compatriots by smashing injured fast bowler Dale Steyn for six as New Zealand reached their revised victory target of 298 with one ball to spare.
The win meant New Zealand, who’d lost all six of their previous World Cup semi-finals, had at last made it through to the tournament’s climax and could look forward to taking part in Sunday’s showpiece match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. But for South Africa, who’ve yet to play in a World Cup final, this was the fourth time they’d fallen at the semi-final hurdle.
“At the end what a great innings from Grant Elliott,” said New Zealand captain and opener Brendon McCullum, who launched the Black Caps’ reply with a typically aggressive 59. “He came out of the wilderness not long ago and now just played a match-winning innings in a World Cup semi-final.”
Elliott, who turned 36 last weekend, finished the match in style to round off a superb 73-ball innings including seven fours and three sixes. “It is great. I don’t think this win is for myself, or the team, it is for everyone here. The support has been amazing,” said Elliott.
South Africa, who won the toss and batted, overcame a shaky start to recover to 216 for three off 38 overs. But with Faf du Plessis (82) and skipper AB de Villiers (65 not out) going well, rain then stopped play.
When the match resumed after two hours, it had been reduced to a 43 overs per side clash and the Proteas had lost all their momentum. David Miller’s blistering 49 off just 18 balls helped South Africa finish on 281 for five – the Proteas scoring 65 in their last five overs.
‘LONG TIME TO GET OVER THIS’
That left the Black Caps with a stiff revised victory target of 298 under the Duckworth/Lewis method for rain-affected matches. South Africa paceman Morne Morkel and leg-spinner Imran Tahir were particularly impressive but the Proteas again came up short. “It’s really painful,” said a distraught de Villiers. “We had opportunities and it will take us a long time to get over this.”
Thursday’s second semi-final at the Sydney Cricket Ground threatens to be more of an ‘away’ match than a home game for Australia, with 70 percent of a sold-out ticket allocation taken up by India fans.
If the pitch suits spinners, as has been the case at the SCG, India – with Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in their side – will feel that conditions are very familiar.
In the build-up to the World Cup, India endured a wretched tour of Australia where they failed to win a Test or a match in the triangular one-day series also featuring England.
But Australia opener Aaron Finch played down talk of his side having a psychological edge on Thursday. “We played some really good cricket against India earlier in the summer. Now they have played beautifully throughout this World Cup. Undefeated so far, the team has grown in confidence,” said Finch.
Recent Australia-India matches have produced plenty of verbal fireworks. However, volatile Australia opener David Warner, censured during both the Test and one-day series, will need to be especially careful on Thursday as a third breach of the International Cricket Council’s code of conduct could see him banned from the final.