New Zealand Reaches First Cricket World Cup Final

New Zealand will play its first ICC Cricket World Cup final after a nail-biting four-wicket semi-final win against South Africa in Auckland on Thursday.  After winning the toss and batting the South Africans had to endure early hostile bowling from Tim Southee and Trent Boult.  Quinton De Kock edged past third slip to get off the mark with a boundary off Boult’s second delivery.  By the left-armer’s fifth ball De Kock, on 6, edged again for four but was put down by Luke Ronchi diving to his left.

The second ball of Boult’s second over saw Amla off the mark after he hooked to the square leg boundary but Bout, in the deep, just could not get to it despite a desperate dive.  Two balls later Amla edged but it fell just short of second slip.  Boult was rewarded when Amla (10) played outside his off stump to a low, full, in-swinging delivery and dragged it on.

The 25-year old struck again in the eighth over when De Kock swung at a wide delivery outside off stump.  The edge found Southee who was waiting at third man.  De Kock was out for 14 with SA 31/2.  A superb opening period saw the Rotorua fast bowler send down seven overs claiming 2/38 while new man Matt Henry came on and bowled two maidens in his first three overs.

It feel to Faf Du Plessis and Rilee Rossouw to repair the Proteas’ innings.  The pair added 85 for the third wicket but in the 27th over ended when Corey Anderson struck with a widish ball outside off stump at which Rossouw cut and was brilliantly caught one-handed by Martin Guptill diving full length at point.  The Knights batsman contributed 39.

Du Plessis was proving to be the rock of the innings and brought up his 50 with a heave over mid-wicket in the 31st over.  Two balls later he double-stepped Henry for a 90 metre six straight down the ground.  The South Africans started to accelerate with Du Plessis and De Villers taking just 45 balls to bring up their 50 stand.  At the start of the batting power play De Villiers was dropped at extra cover by Kane Williamson off Anderson.

The South African skipper was on 38 at the time.  As an early sign of what was to come, De Villiers was on 52 just three balls later but three overs in the future the rain started to fall at Eden Park with South Africa 216/3 and a 102 run stand between the two Proteas players in place.  Nearly two hours later play resumed with the match reduced to 43 overs per side.  Two balls after the restart Du Plessis fell as he went on the pull to a leg side delivery and gloved it to Ronchi for 82. Du Plessis was Anderson’s second victim and hit seven fours and a six in his 107-ball innings.

David Miller came in and helped himself to 49 from only 18 deliveries.  Miller gave himelf space before edging a wide one in an attempted cut off Anderson (3/72) to Ronchi.  The Dolphin did damage with his six fours and three sixes.  De Villiers was unbeaten on 65 as the SA innings ended on 281/5.  Duckworth/Lewis would dictate a revised target of 298 for the Kiwis.

Brendon McCullum and Guptill wasted no time and began in blistering fashion.  The Black Caps skipper pulled Dale Steyn for a humungous six in the fine leg area to bring up his 50 off just 22 balls as the co-hosts found themselves 71/0 after the first five overs.  De Villiers brought on Imran Tahir who immediately slowed things down with a maiden but the side lost its review after referring a not out LBW decision on Guptill that television replays indicated was bouncing over the stumps.

McCullum was out next ball to Morkel when he pulled to Steyn at mid-on.  The New Zealand captain departed for a devastating 59 from 26, including eight fours and four sixes with his side 71/1.  Ten runs later Williamson dragged one on from Morkel in an attempted pull and had to walk for 6.

After Ross Taylor and Guptill consolidated and added 47 runs there was a misunderstanding that saw the opener run out when Amla moved quickly from point to fire in and De Kock duly broke the stumps to usher in Johannesburg-born Grant Elliott, who would add 28 with Taylor for the fourth wicket.  The former New Zealand captain was next to go, caught down the leg side by De Kock for a patient 30, off JP Duminy.  At this point the New Zealanders were 149/4 off 21.4 overs requiring a further 149 from 128 balls and in came Anderson.

Elliott and Anderson steadily built what was appearing to be a match-winning partnership for the co-hosts.  In the 30th over the South African-born batter played a glorious cover drive off Dale Steyn and the pair ran three to reduce the target to 99 with 80 balls still to be bowled.  Sensing danger the Proteas skipper brought himself on to bowl and conceded an admirable four runs in his opening over.  In the very next over Anderson might have been run out but survived as De Villiers’ hands proved too quick for his own eye and the captain broke the wickets without the ball in his hand with the New Zealander stranded in the middle of the pitch and then, one Elliott boundary later, the batting power play arrived.

There was an air of inevitability about matters as both batsmen brought up their half-centuries in the 36th over.   However the South Africans were not going down without a fight.  Anderson was first to depart, caught Du Plessis off Morkel for 58 before Steyn had Ronchi caught for 8 in the deep by Rossouw leaving the co-hosts needing 29 from 17 balls with four wickets in hand.  The equation was down to 23 from 12 as the match balanced on a knife’s edge.  A timely Elliott cover drive off Morkel’s penultimate ball seemingly swung the pendulum back New Zealand’s way before Elliott skied one that confused Duminy and Farhaan Behardien, who both went for it on the square leg boundary and so the home side required 12 off the final over to be bowled by Dale Steyn.

The drama increased when Steyn required medical attention for an apparent ankle problem.  Vettori stretched in unorthodox fashion to send the next ball into the third man boundary before a scraped single left the scenario as five from two.  The next ball was sent into the crowd behind long-on as Elliott hit the winning runs to finish unbeaten on 84 from 73 with seven fours and three sixes.

Had the rain not fallen when it did South Africa might well have posted a score in excess of 350 but we will simply never know.  So while Russell Domingo’s charges are left wondering what might have been yet again, it is the Black Caps who will play in their first ever World Cup final come Sunday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.