"I was looking to hit that ball for six or four. I was just going to line it up and wherever it was, it was going over the boundary, hopefully. I didn't want to be there 70-odd and not winning this game. That was not a position I wanted to be in." - Grant Elliott
March 24, 2015 - On a coruscating evening of heartbreak, joy and everything in between, South Africa-born Grant Elliott's six off the penultimate ball of the 2015 World Cup semi-final helped New Zealand defeat the Proteas and propelled them to their first ever final. Match-winning knocks, inspired bowling, captains on fire, rain interruption, tears of joy and pain - this match had it all.
This was the second time the World Cup was being held in Australia and New Zealand, the first having been in 1992. Captained by an inspirational leader Brendon McCullum, the Black Caps played an aggressive brand of cricket and won all of their encounters in the group stage. After smashing Sri Lanka in the tournament opener, New Zealand were tested to their limits against Scotland.
They decimated England in their next match before coming face to face against their trans-Tasman rivals Australia. It was a low-scoring thriller, courtesy Trent Boult and Mitchell Starc. However, Kane Williamson held his own and took his team over the line with just one wicket to spare. They then beat Afghanistan and Bangladesh to top Group A before outclassing West Indies in the quarter-final.
Meanwhile, South Africa - led by AB de Villiers - suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of India in their second group-stage game but thumped the likes of Zimbabwe, West Indies, Ireland and UAE. Despite losing to India and Pakistan, the Proteas qualified for the knockouts where they hammered Sri Lanka by nine wickets.
This was New Zealand's seventh semi-final, while South Africa were playing their fourth. Both teams had never made it past the semi-finals and the onus was on them to capitalise on this golden opportunity, and what followed in Auckland was a classic scripted in fantasy land.
A SEMI-FINAL TO REMEMBER
New Zealand paceman Boult got rid of openers Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock inside eight overs after South Africa won the toss and opted to bat first at Eden Park. South Africa were in desperate need of a partnership and that's when Faf du Plessis and Rilee Rossouw stepped up. The two found it tough to get going against the likes of Boult, Tim Southee, Matt Henry and Daniel Vettori in the first 20 overs but ensured there was no top-order collapse as such.
The runs finally started flowing in after the 20th over as the two put on 83 runs for the third wicket. Rossouw was dismissed for 39 and that's when de Villiers walked in and changed the dynamics of the game. Du Plessis too upped the ante and added 103 runs with his school friend to change the momentum of the innings. De Villiers looked in phenomenal touch and smashed eight fours and a six in his 45-ball 65*, while du Plessis managed 82 off 107.
There was a rain interruption after the end of 38 overs and the match was reduced to 43 overs a side. With just five overs to go, David Miller smoked 49 off just 18 deliveries, studded with six fours and three maximums to help his team amass 65 runs in those 30 deliveries, as South Africa finished on 281/5 in 43 overs.
With a revised DLS target of 298, McCullum did what he did in the entire tournament, that is, get New Zealand off to a blistering start. The right-handed dasher slammed eight fours and four sixes in his 26-ball 59 as New Zealand raced to 71 for no loss in five overs. De Villiers was forced to bring Imran Tahir into the attack and the legspinner started with a maiden. However, it was Morne Morkel who gave South Africa the all-important wicket of McCullum in the eighth over. The home team then lost Williamson, Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor and were reduced to 149/4.
Just when everything was going in South Africa's favour, the Black Caps were pulled back into contention thanks to the watchful Elliott and aggressive Corey Anderson who shared a 103-run association for the fifth wicket. There were also a few missed opportunities in the field and the two batsmen made the most of it. It was once again Morkel who brought South Africa back in the game by sending Anderson back in the hut for a 57-ball 58.
The requirement got down to 23 off 12, with 11 runs coming from Morkel's penultimate over that included the Elliott reprieve. Vettori managed to squeeze Dale Steyn's third delivery off the final over to the left of third man for four and then managed a bye on the next ball to bring the equation down to 5 off 2. Steyn got his length wrong and Elliott went deep in the crease, took his front leg out of the way and tonked it over long-on for a historic six, leaving the South African players heartbroken, and the Kiwis in delight.
- Immediately? Elliott's commiserations for Steyn! The pacer was on the floor in disbelief when Elliott walked up to Steyn and offered him a helping hand, which was captured by one of the official photographers. A snapshot that summed up the very essence of sportsmanship, aka 'Spirit Of Cricket' in the cricketing world!
- Elliott scored 83 in the final against Australia but it wasn't enough as the Michael Clarke-led side emerged victorious. This was Australia's fifth World Cup title.
- Former New Zealand captain and record-breaking left-arm spinner Vettori announced his retirement from international cricket after the showpiece event.
- New Zealand once again lost the final in the 2019 World Cup against England, but this time on the basis of the boundary countback rule.