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New Zealand triumphs in cricket, South Africa wins hearts


ICC Cricket ODI World Cup 2015The great thing about cricket isn't the awe inspiring tales concocted by the immeasurable brilliance of bat and ball alone. It is the perplexing ability of the game to present a larger-than-life spectacle that moves and inspires, chides or bereaves, but ultimately presents us with an undiluted, pure sense of joy that you would not find anywhere else. Usually the final game of any tournament is expected to give more than the average dose of thrills, but the semi-final stage is also a seminal point in making and breaking reputations. Even more so if it is the semi-final stage of the mega cricket event called the ICC Cricket World Cup.

It is actually difficult to take cognizance of the emotions from one of the most splendid encounters to have ever taken place between South Africa and New Zealand. For sure, there is much to say and feel apart from elation in New Zealand's grand victory, something they truly deserved. But one must ask, didn't South Africa deserve every bit of it equally? Duckworth-Lewis didn't exactly spoil their chances, nor did their batsmen fail them. Their bowlers held the grip on the game until the very last ball was bowled. Their fielders were suspended in the air as much as sprawled on the ground, displaying a wide variety of acrobatics to save every possible run. Yes, there were missed chances, but would that be sufficient reason for the fall of the Proteas?

If the Kiwis' victory seemed like the triumph of the underdog over the mighty, then it has to be said that analysts and fans did not do much apart from stick to well-worn epithets and commonly held beliefs. There is always a hint of a danger in the term “underdog". You are aware that they can bite and muster enough courage to take you by surprise, but given the dormancy of its attack, it catches you off guard. New Zealand cricket is not underdog cricket. The Kiwis have taken their own time in deciding the altitude at which they fly comfortably. Presently, they seem destined for greatness beyond the clouds.

When was the last time anyone saw them being bashed in consecutive one sided outings in international cricket? New Zealanders do make for a slightly confusing cocktail given their cricketing talent. The team talks little, and silently seems to affirm the notion that talk is cheap. The great work ethic brings team performance to the forefront of their cricketing exploits. No better instance supports this claim than the 2015 ICC World Cup where the triumph of team spirit over individual performances has been central to New Zealand's success. It is incorrect to construe that South Africa, giants of the modern game, were caught off guard by the Kiwis, since the entire world witnessed the New Zealand juggernaut, so the only rational way to summarise New Zealand's giant leap into the finals (the first in their history of participating in 11 World Cup campaigns) is that they had greater belief in themselves than the South Africans.


No team likes to face South Africa, least of all in one day internationals. Especially not when the South Africans have something to prove in a tournament where their history is filled with doubts. How is it possible that a team like South Africa, who easily sideline the best in the world on their day (and one must note that they have more days than most) have never lifted the world cup? New Zealand were not the only team facing South Africa. In the end it has to be understood that South Africa too were facing South Africa! The harsh reality of having never made it to the finals of a cricket world cup and the reverberating echo of doubt of having never lifted the most coveted international trophy, were all competing with South Africa.

You can always dread facing South Africa, both as a player and a fan, but you can't disrespect them. There is always an element of unimaginable genius in their game that makes them so potent and their brand of cricket so threatening. It is this extraction of the extra special from their game that often pushes them over the cliff in their pursuit of genius. On Tuesday, they did everything right. They batted first and bulldozed bowling by putting in 281 from 43 overs, and ensured the D/L system favoured them by setting their opponents the not inconsiderable task of scoring 298 from 43 overs to win. In doing so, Faf Du Plessis led the way with a solid knock of 82 just when the team needed their no.3 to stick it out. Soon came Miller and AB and the Kiwis were sent flying all around the ground. Fans were set for a Protean evening. However, while bowling it seemed they were listening to the unfriendly beats of the victory song that has never quite been theirs.

It is highly debatable that the missed opportunity by De Villiers to run out Corey Anderson cost them their game, or that the spilled chance by Behardien and Duminy allowed Kiwis to win. Didn't Taylor, McCullum and Ronchi all play their part in ensuring New Zealand's spirited response? Didn't Grant Elliot seem like a transformed man altogether, seemingly intent in powering New Zealand to a memorable victory? If there were slog hits in the middle, then those were perfectly balanced by polished strokes against a brittle South African bowling. New Zealand played bravely, and despite losing wickets, it never seemed like they were playing for a lost cause.

Even if the Kiwis lost, they would be remembered and respected by all, having once again made it to the semis by trouncing a Windies lineup featuring the mighty Gayle and his power hitter friends, with Guptill winning well-deserved plaudits for his glorious double ton. In reality, New Zealand were tireless and determined to take that extra step. McCullum's men had only one thought in mind: “If the world cup seems so fascinating from a few yards away, we might as well fight our way to catch a closer glimpse at the ultimate prize of glory.”  In reality, their understated might, coupled with the fire-fighting ability to battle till the end, made their day. They were the least bothered about having never made it to the finals before, their people and cricketers pragmatically more in sync with constructing a meaningful present than ruing about the lost chances. This was perhaps the great leveller.

Their man of the moment, Grant Elliot, admitted that he didn't even take a look at where the ball went upon hitting the deciding blow on a struggling Steyn's length ball in the final over, proving that their intent was to get the job done.

As a fan or a player, you ought to feel for South Africa, who entered the tournament as favourites, and even as they take the long, soulful flight back home, remain the favourites!

Favourites for presenting us once again with an awe inspiring spectacle of all round excellence in cricket. Favourites for the flair their batsmen demonstrated in dismantling bowling attacks. Favourites for their bowlers keeping their heads held high even in difficult times and striking when it mattered. Favourites because, even in their loss, which doesn't fundamentally matter to a Pakistani, Windies, Indian or Sri Lankan fan, they have admirers all over the world who have most likely shed a tear seeing big heroes go down fighting.

Picture Amla's heroics verus West Indies and Ireland. Du Plessis' class against Sri Lanka and New Zealand. While AB de Villers is a touchy topic for cricket lovers at the moment, the superman wrecked Windies with an emphatic 166* of 62 earlier on. They command fear and respect in the same breadth. McCullum would be the last man to be scared of Steyn or Morkel's pace, and he proved it with his lashing against the duo from the top of the order. And yet, in the presentation ceremony, he admitted that South Africa played like champions, and gave his side a run for their money.

As Brendon's men run over to the finals, inarguably the most interesting match of the tournament, AB de Villiers has no place to go. Not because his side lost an important game, but because it is a tough task to escape the deeply felt hurt that he and his brave men received at their tournament ouster. While there is a loss for South Africa to concede, they have won mightily- the hearts of their opponents and fans. The fact is that McCullum's men played perhaps the best game of their lives so far. AB's heroes played their game as passionately as only Proteans could.

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