2015 Cricket World Cup Semi Final, New Zealand v South Africa
Eden Park, 24 March, 2015
There needs to be a caveat from the get-go here. I have a terrible memory for details, for facts and figures, but a great memory for emotions. And jeez there were plenty on this night. Hat tip to Sky’s replay of this match for helping fill in the gaps.
We’d attended every BlackCaps game of the 2015 World Cup, and already had tickets to final. After the romantic run the team had been on in the five weeks prior, we finished work early and headed off to the ground knowing that by the end of the night, we might actually have a team to root for at the ‘G.
The carrot of a Cricket World Cup Final was definitely enough to chase. But what these two teams were running from was also significant. A first final was on the line, and so was the dishonour of being labelled perennial chokers. Which was more motivating?
I’ve always been worried about South African sports teams. They are a stubborn and relentless sporting nation, capable of fighting to the end with ruthless aggression. With names like Amla, du Plessis, de Villiers and Steyn, the #ProteaFire was piping hot, and Kiwi cricket fans knew this wasn’t going to be easy.
Sitting in the top tier of the West Stand, watching the ground slowly fill (mostly with orange…), the atmosphere started to grow. After 30 overs, South Africa were 130-odd/3. Some might call that odds even, especially on a small ground. Enter de Villiers and du Plessis, who worked those short boundaries to perfection. They put on 30 in three overs, and things just started to feel different.
I’ve never been more grateful for rain. I don’t actually remember what I did during the rain delay, but I do remember being convinced it was the best thing that could’ve happened for us. Phrases like ‘momentum’ and ‘coming out cold’ fell out of my mouth with unjustified confidence. The batsmen had been hot, and now they’d sat in the dressing room for a while. There was no way they were coming out swinging like before.
Wait a minute, who’s this David Miller dude? Who invited him?! 49 off 18 deliveries was exactly what South Africa needed, and their end tally of 281/5 from 43 overs looked daunting. Because it was South Africa. I tried to tell myself that this was Eden Park, no one knows how to work this ground like we do. 280 is a walk in the park with these boundaries, right? RIGHT?
Brendon McCullum certainly thought so. As he fired shot after shot over the ropes, the crowd was unlike anything I’d remembered seeing at a cricket match before. The occasion, married with the goodwill everyone had towards this team of loveable gentlemen, accounted for loud, passionate cheers, every run being lauded and applauded. A total different feeling than the middle of that first innings. McCullum brought up his 50 off 22 balls, while Guptill, the double-century hero from the Quarter Final, just sat back and watched, a leisurely 6 off 5.
At 71/0, we dared to believe, just like the ads told us to. McCullum stumbled after setting the pace, but that was okay, we had Guptill, Williamson and Taylor all to come. Williamson chopped on cheaply, Taylor ran Guptill out, then got strangled down the legside. Enter Grant Elliott, no one knowing what was to come. Johannesburg-born, about to break some hearts. He found support from Corey Anderson, who I remember thinking was made for this moment. We have a proud history of all-rounders, and his broad shoulders seemed perfect for a moment like this. The story was written in my mind, he just had to make it happen.
A seemingly-comfortable 68 from 49 with six wickets in hand turned into 23 off 13 with four wickets remaining. Daniel Vettori was partnering Elliott. Before Trent Boult’s flamingo-style batting entertainment, there was the baffling “How on Earth did he get that there?” unorthodoxy of Vettori. One of the oldest, coolest heads in the side, true, but some of those shots didn’t evoke confidence in the moment.
Another dropped catch. 14 off 7.
It’s at about this time I started making the most abnormal noises you’ve ever heard in a sports ground. I’d call it a cow with labour pains, but with a bubble in her throat. I felt physically ill. I groaned with anxiety, some deliveries I watched through my fingers. My right leg bounced non-stop. I’d have loved to be wearing a heart-rate monitor, it would’ve been off the charts. I hung my head between my knees and took some deep breaths. My companion would violently shove me or shake me with each run or dropped catch. The stakes were high. The noise was deafening.
12 off 6. In a normal match, I’d say the odds were in our favour. In the Modern Game™, two runs a ball isn’t too much to ask. But Lord knows this wasn’t a normal match.
Byes. Have they ever been so important? Bless that gangly running, Dan. When they ran that final bye to get Elliott on strike, my noises graduated to an elongated duck sound. Right. 5 off 2. Elliott on strike, with Steyn, one of the world’s best, running in at him. This is what sport is all about, right?
Nope. Not me, I hated it. Unsubscribe. How is this enjoyable? I wanted to vomit, or cry, or both. My hands were pulling at my cheeks. Knees weak, arms were heavy – all that stuff. It felt like my chest was heaving. Cue a full guttural groan. I don’t know if I can watch this…. The crowd was full volume, but to me, there was nothing else in the world than Dale Steyn, Grant Elliot, and the rolling nausea in my gut.
I never saw the ball go into the stand, I only saw it leave the bat. I screamed, hooting and hollering. The entire West Stand jumped up and down, and I fleetingly questioned its structural integrity. I high fived and hugged strangers. I perhaps even squealed. Fireworks lit up the night sky, from the roof of the stadium and apex of the Sky Tower. A few moments were lost in the celebration, but then I saw our team jumping and celebrating with each other. Tears filled my eyes, and I openly sobbed as I watched that squad of men I didn’t know personally, but loved unashamedly, sharing their success. You’ve done it, lads. We’ve done it. See you in Melbourne.
The seat where that ball landed in the crowd is now painted green, to mark the moment in Eden Park folklore.
And that’s where I choose to believe the 2015 Cricket World Cup finished. That’s all I care to remember. As far as I was concerned, we’d never be in a more dramatic Cricket World Cup game, and my emotions were just fine with that.
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