Auckland | New Zealand today scripted history by making their maiden cricket World Cup final appearance with a stunning four-wicket win in a nerve-wrecking last-four clash against the formidable South Africa, finally shedding the tag of perennial under-achievers in the mega event.
Chasing a stiff target of 298 runs in 43 overs under the Duckworth/Lewis rule in the rain-curtailed game, New Zealand crossed the line when Grant Elliot (84) smashed Dale Steyn over long-on for a six with just one ball to spare in a thrilling showdown.
Needing 12 to win off six balls, Vettori found the fence to bring the equation down to five from two balls, before Elliot hit the winning runs as the Eden Park broke into wild celebrations.
The result meant the perennial choker’s tag would continue to haunt South Africa and they would once again look for soul searching.
Since the inaugural edition in 1975, New Zealand have reached the semifinals of the showpiece event six times, but failed to clear the penultimate hurdle on all the occasions.
However, they looked determined to script history today and despite being set a daunting target, the Kiwis never gave up and were spurred on by a vociferous home crowd.
Earlier, David Miller had blazed his way to a 18-ball 49 as the Proteas set a difficult target. Opting to bat, South Africa notched up 281 for five, but the target was revised under the Duckworth/Lewis method after seven overs each were deducted per side following a two-hour rain interruption.
Skipper AB de Villiers made an unbeaten 65 off 45 balls, while Faf du Plessis top-scored with a 107-ball 82, but it was Miller’s innings that gave Proteas the much-needed impetuous towards the end.
In reply, the New Zealanders were off to a flying start with skipper Brendon McCullum going hammer and tongs at the South African pacers, especially Steyn.
Such was his onslaught against Steyn that the South African pace spearhead was clobbered for 25 runs as New Zealand raced to 71 for no loss in five overs.
McCullum’s two sixes and three fours against Steyn was followed by a maiden over by Imran Tahir, and it worked in the Proteas’ favour as the pressure created by the leg-spinner saw McCullum throwing away his wicket. His manic fifty contained eight boundaries and four sixes. The belligerent 26-ball 59 set the tone for what turned out to be a historic chase.
Elliott and Corey Anderson (58) played smartly, mixing caution with aggression, and it was their 103-run partnership for the fifth wicket that kept the Black Caps in the game after McCullum’s dismissal.
By the time Anderson was the fifth man out, New Zealand needed 46 runs from 30 balls, standing a very good chance of crossing the line. Elliott ensured he finished the task by staying till the very end.
Elliott hit seven fours and three sixes in his unbeaten 73-ball knock, while Anderson found the fence six times and cleared it twice in his 57-ball innings.
36-year-old veteran Daniel Vettori, playing in his last World Cup, was at the crease when victory was earned. New Zealand, who achieved the highest run-chase in knockout rounds of World Cup, will meet either defending champions India or four-time winners Australia in the summit showdown on Sunday.
There were useful contributions from Martin Guptill (34) and Ross Taylor 30).
Morne Morkel was the most successful South African bowler, returning figures of three for 59 while Imran Tahir conceded a measly 40 runs in his nine overs.
Considered the best fast bowler of in contemporary cricket, Steyn’s campaign ended in agony as his 8.5 overs went for 76 runs after the humiliation meted out by McCullum.
Besides his batting, Anderson, though highly expensive, was the most successful bowler from New Zealand with figures of 3/72. Trent Boult picked up two wickets.
Earlier, Miller clobbered six fours and three sixes, narrowly missing out on equalling the record for fastest World Cup fifty.
AB de Villiers made an unbeaten 65 off 45 balls, while Faf du Plessis top-scored with a 107-ball 82, but it was Miller’s innings that gave Proteas the much-needed impetuous towards the end.
Thanks to his blitzkrieg, South Africa, who were 184 for three at the end of 35th over, scored 65 runs in the last five overs.
South Africa looked edgy and found the going tough with Trent Boult sending back both the openers, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock, with only 31 runs on the board in the eighth over.
Though both Amla and de Kock got a reprieve each, they failed to make them count, getting dismissed for 10 and 14 respectively.
However, New Zealand were made to suffer after Kane Williamson dropped de Villiers in the 36th over.
But before that, with the two early scalps, Boult became New Zealand’s leading bowler at a World Cup, overtaking Geoff Allott’s 21 victims in 1999. He now has 22, the highest in this edition of the tournament.
New Zealand kept things tight and it encouraged skipper Brendon McCullum to employ an attacking field with five slips and a gully in place at one stage of the innings, a rare sight in one-day cricket.
The South African ship was steadied by du Plessis and Rilee Rossouw (39) as the pair added 83 runs for the third wicket.
Scoring was not easy but the two fought it out in their quest to lay a base for the likes of de Villiers and Miller to hit out later. Rossouw hit two fours and a six in his 53-ball knock, which was brought to and end by Corey Anderson.
The dismissal brought to the crease de Villiers and as is the case normally, in his presence the momentum swung South Africa’s way in no time.
South Africa also seemed to have brought all the luck with them as Williamson dropped de Villiers at short cover just as the batsman was settling down. The Proteas skipper smashed one hard off Anderson but the ball burst through Williamson’s fingers.
As expected, the drop cost New Zealand dear as de Villiers launched into Anderson, hitting the next ball for a six over long-on and followed that up with two boundaries to signal his intention.
With de Villiers hitting top gear and du Plessis keeping one end solid, the 200 was up in the 37th over. The cloud cover then gave way to rain, which interrupted proceedings with South Africa going strong at 216 for three after the end of the 38th over.
When play finally resumed, de Villiers was not at his best and though Miller made up for that with his attacking knock, the total proved to be insufficient in the end.
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