The 2015 cricket World Cup has lived up to all the expectations so far. We have had our fair share of drama, loads of heart stopping matches, controversy and yet another disappointing end for the South African team who stumbled at the second last hurdle on Tuesday.
Although Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum laid the base for the rest of the team with his rampant 56 at the top of the order, it was South African born Grant Elliott who stole the show with an unbeaten 84 that sealed the fate of the Proteas.
Born in Johannesburg, the 36 year old Elliott did his schooling at St Stithians. It’s the same school where Cape Town raised Jonathan Trott. He has recently been recalled to the England squad to tour the West Indies.
When will the South African selectors, and more importantly ministers of sport realise that their obsession with the quota system will eventually drive all sports to the canvas, and that they will find themselves in exactly the same predicament as Zimbabwe?
Elliott is by no means the only South African born cricketer who now plies his trade in the land of the long white cloud. Wicket keeper batsman Kruger van Wyk left his home land when he realised that he would never be able to take over from the then established Mark Boucher. Left arm fast bowler Neil Wagner also jumped ship, despite having the honor of pushing the drinks cart out onto the pitch in a test match in Johannesburg.
Both players have thrived in their newly adopted countries, but it was Elliott who grabbed the headlines in spectacular style on Wednesday.
So, was this a case of the mighty all conquering Protea machine living up to what seems to have become their lifetime label, and choking when it really mattered? Or was this an exhibition of cricket of the highest quality?
Scenes after the match clearly show how devastated the Proteas were when Elliott swung the penultimate ball from Dale Steyn into the stands to win the match by four wickets. It was sad to see the weather playing a major part in this crucial encounter. If South Africa’s rhythm hadn’t been disrupted by rain, one feels that New Zealand may very well have been chasing a total closer to 350 from their allotted overs.
It may also have been unfair towards AB de Villiers and his men, given that they only had another four overs at the resumption of play. They clearly lost momentum despite a cameo by hard hitting David Miller, who really is a sight for sore eyes when he bats with the freedom he was allowed to bat with on Tuesday.
Having said that, the flip side of the coin is that although South Africa made 281 runs from their 43 overs, New Zealand were asked to score 298 from their 43 overs.
Does that make sense? To those of us who simply watch and follow the game, probably not.
Be that as it may, New Zealand got off to an absolute flyer, thanks to their captain Brendon McCullum, whose assault on Dale Steyn and in particular Vernon Philander brought goosebumps to viewers both in the stands, and in their lounges.
The chokers label will probably still remain, or at least, with those who are determined to call the Proteas by that accursed name, due to a few costly mistakes made in the field. Big hitting Corey Anderson should have been run out by AB de Villiers when he had 33, but the normally calm captain seemed to have had a rush of blood to the head as he first of all broke the stumps with out the ball in his hand, then tried to pull out one of the stumps. It was to no avail.
Anderson then went on to make 58 in a fifth wicket stand that realized 103 with Grant Elliott before eventually falling to the pace and bounce of Morne Morkel who bowled his heart out. Then, with another 23 runs required, the Proteas were once again given a sniff when Elliott survived a massive let off thanks to a terrible miss understanding in the outfield between JP Duminy and Berhardien. The two fielders collided in the outfield, and Elliott who is not normally known for his stroke play, held his nerve to guide the Black Caps to their first ever final.
Once again, South Africa will have to do some soul searching to see how the cup once again slipped through their hands. Once agin, they entered the tournament as one of the favourites, along side India and Australia, and yet again, they came unstuck when it really mattered. Did they possibly rely to much on their skipper to contribute with the bat? Were they found wanting when chasing down totals, though their nine wicket demolition job over Sri Lanka suggested that they had rectified that problem.
One of the crucial ingredients to winning vital matches, such as a semi final, is team selection, and South African selectors should be held accountable for the exclusion of seamer Kyle Abbott. Instead, they picked an unfit and frankly speaking out of form Vernon Philander. He has never really got to grips with the white ball.
Kyle Abbott on the other hand, played four World Cup matches, took nine wickets, at a ridiculously low average of 14.44 and boasted with an economy rate of 1.9 runs per over, with a strike rate of 20.6.
So why on earth would you want to leave such a bowler out of your team? Abbott is lethal with the new ball, and has the ability to extract movement, pace and bounce on any surface, while his bowling at the death is by far and away the best in the South African line up.
Abbott’s exclusion brings back memories of the 1996 World Cup, when the farcical decision was made to leave Alan Donald out of a quarter final World Cup match against the West Indies, for left arm spinner Paul Adams. Adams was the most expensive of the bowlers, Brian Lara made 116, and the late Hansie Cronjee and his merry men were sent packing.
19 years later, the current bunch of South African selectors still think with their hearts, and not with their heads. This lead to one of the several mistakes which ultimately cost South Africa the World Cup.
There is no doubt that AB de Villiers has taken ownership of this team, his actions both on and off the field have earned the respect of fans around the world, as well as current and past opposition players.
South Africa have found a match winner in Imran Tahir, who is unquestionably the Protea’s best bowler in limited overs cricket, but it will be another four long years before the new crop of Proteas will have another chance of ridding themselves of the chokers tag.