New Zealand Reach Maiden World Cup Final

24/03/2015 8:26 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum hits the ball for six runs while batting against South Africa during their Cricket World Cup semifinal in Auckland, New Zealand, Tuesday, March 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)

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By Jamie Alter

New Zealand have secured passage to the World Cup final for the first time. And the country will celebrate tonight.

Victory was sealed with Elliott - born and raised in South Africa - swinging six to remain unbeaten on 84 from 74 balls with one delivery left in an epic World Cup semi-final. This was not for the faint-hearted.

The stage was Eden Park, filled to the brim with 41,279, the occasion being the tournament semi-finals, the major players being Brendon McCullum, Grant Elliott and Corey Anderson. McCullum gave New Zealand a fantastic start to a difficult Duckworth/Lewis revised target of 298 in 43 overs by smacking his way to a bullish fifty, and after a wobble it was the middle-order pair of Elliott and Anderson who steered the chase with a sensible stand of 103 in 97 balls. Victory was sealed with Elliott - born and raised in South Africa - swinging six to remain unbeaten on 84 from 74 balls with one delivery left in an epic World Cup semi-final. This was not for the faint-hearted.

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The end was frenetic, excruciating. In the last 17 minutes South Africa missed the stumps, dropped a catch. Balls landed between fielders. Elliott made room and drilled Morne Morkel for four past extra cover. Next ball, JP Duminy collided with Farhaan Behardien at deep backward square leg and the ball popped out. "Let's go Vettori!" chanted the fans. They booed when Dale Steyn delayed his delivery and chatted with his captain as the support staff ran up with the medical box of marvels. Mid-pitch, Elliott and Daniel Vettori talked shop, swigged energy drinks, dried their faces. The tension had ratcheted up to new decibels.

Steyn ran in, Vettori made room and squeezed a four to third man. Six needed off three balls. Then a scampered single. Elliott back on strike. Five from two. The winning hit off his blade, a towering six rows and rows back over long-on. Elliott the hero, arms outstretched, Vettori hugging him as the New Zealand dug out cleared. Eden Park has never been louder, more magical, more united.

South Africa would have backed themselves to defend all those runs after AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and David Miller lifted them either side of a nearly two-hour rain break, but McCullum's outstanding attack on their three fast bowlers and the lack of a potent fifth bowler proved their undoing. New Zealand remain unbeaten in the World Cup and will meet the winners of the second semi-final at the MCG on March 29. You better believe they are up for it.

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New Zealand's start was driven entirely by McCullum, who laced eight fours and four sixes in his 26-ball stay. His targeting of Vernon Philander, in his first match in almost two weeks, was clinical: he hung back and heaved six and four off successive balls, then whipped a boundary off the pads. Steyn's third over cost 25, with McCullum crunching two sixes and three fours with electrifying energy, and Morkel was clattered over extra cover, mid-on and midwicket.

It was a change of ends and pace for Morkel that did for McCullum on 59, as he charged and miscued to Steyn at mid-on. McCullum soaked up the appreciation from the crowd he slowly walked off.

At this stage the asking rate had been reduced to 6.2 an over, meaning that New Zealand's remaining batsmen could maintain a steady tempo. But within moments Morkel prised out Kane Williamson for 6, who edged a cramped pull onto the stumps.

Martin Guptill, whose role in an opening stand of 71 in 6.1 overs had been six off 11 balls, added 47 with Ross Taylor before a risky single had him on his way for 34. New Zealand were 128 for 3, needing 170 from 25.5 overs. Taylor ticked along well, but his preference to manufacture runs to the leg side off the spinners proved his downfall, for on 30 he glanced JP Duminy into Quinton de Kock's gloves. Enter Anderson, whose nervous start was smoothed over by a one-legged six of deep square leg off Philander. Duminy's overs were costly, with Anderson drilling him into the sight screen.

South Africa had a good chance to run out Anderson on 33 in the 32nd over, except de Villiers didn't have the ball in his hands at the non-striker's end when a fierce thrown came in from point. Before the over was up, Elliott squeezed Steyn wide of third man for four. Anderson flourished on Morkel's return, driving his first ball past the stumps, followed by a pick-up shot for six from Elliott off the same bowler to whittle the equation down to 73 from 53.

The pair collected their fifties in the 36th over to give the Eden Park faithful more to cheer about, but with 46 to get, Anderson miscued Morkel for du Plessis to settle under a top-edge at square leg. Not long after, Luke Ronchi heaved to a fielder, bringing to the crease Vettori. The crafty warrior supported Elliott well, and victory was so, so sweet for New Zealand.

South Africa will hurt, badly. They had the runs on board, but let crucial moments slip. After de Villiers opted to bat, the start was testing. In the first 14 balls, New Zealand's strike bowlers produced three chances. One was put down. Trent Boult, bowling at high speed and producing sharp movement, drew two edges from de Kock in his opening over, the second of which Ronchi reached for but couldn't clutch. Hashim Amla then mistimed a pull shot tantalisingly close to a sprinting Boult from fine leg. Just when it seemed that South Africa's openers would seize their chances, a leaden-footed Amla inside-edged Boult onto his stumps to end the stand at 21 in 22 balls. That strike from Boult drew him level with the New Zealand record of 20 wickets at a World Cup by Geoff Allott in 1999. When he had de Kock slashing to Southee at third man, Boult became his country's most successful bowler at the tournament.

The two new batsmen, du Plessis and Rilee Rossouw, had to content with Boult and the World Cup debutant Matt Henry, with McCullum going all out with as many as four slips, gully, point and a short cover. Henry, 23, drafted into the squad as Adam Milne's replacement, bowled a pacy spell of 5-2-9-0 in which he got movement and bounce and had both batsmen playing and missing.

A period of consolidation followed between Rossouw and du Plessis, who both batted very sensibly and calmly to add 83 in 18.2 overs. McCullum rotated his bowlers and it was Anderson's one early over that produced the wicket of Rossouw for 39, courtesy a stunning catch from Guptill at backward point. When de Villiers walked in, McCullum called on Boult but the South African skipper was too good, assessing the track beautifully to knock singles immediately.

Henry returned and was hit for six over the sight-screen by du Plessis, using his feet, and in the next over de Villiers got two boundaries off Vettori. A couple more boundaries to de Villiers off Henry took South Africa into the second drinks break on 162 for 3. De Villiers and du Plessis pumped between the wickets to put whatever pressure they could on New Zealand. Williamson dropping de Villiers on 38 at cover cost New Zealand, because the next three balls disappeared to give de Villiers his half-century in 32 balls.

South Africa had more luck when Williamson missed the stumps and a de Villiers top edge landed between three fielders. Then the rain came, holding up play for almost two hours, after which South Africa's innings was reduced to 43 overs. Anderson struck two balls into the resumption, with a review on a short ball down the leg side showing the faintest nick from du Plessis on 82. Miller's arrival hurried the scoring, with some thumped shots down the ground off Southee followed by four and three sixes off Anderson in an 18-ball 49.

It seemed a good total, but New Zealand's belief was a bit more than South Africa's.

Brief scores: New Zealand 299 for 6 in 42.5 overs (Brendon McCullum 59, Corey Anderson 58, Grant Elliott 84*, Morne Morkel 3/59) beat South Africa 281 for 5 in 43 overs (Faf du Plessis 82, AB de Villiers 65*, David Miller 49, Corey Anderson 3/72) by four wickets (D/L method)

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