A teary eyed and shocked AB de Villiers walked slowly into the Press Conference 15 minutes after his side had been knocked out of the Cricket World Cup. The second question he fielded was from a South African journalist.
“Do you think that when you dropped the ball in going for the run out you cost your side the World Cup?”
There was an awkward silence.
“Many things can go right or wrong in a match like that, and there were many moments tonight. But if you want to run the line that I am solely to blame then I’m happy to wear that responsibility.”
It was an extraordinarily classy response to a brutal question asked in bad taste. And he was right; a game like that has several crucial moments, and a match like last night’s, given its closeness throughout, provided more than its fair share.
This was a match played between two very good, but not perfect sides. Neither had made a World Cup final before, and it was being played in front of a deafening crowd of over 40,000. With that for a backdrop there will always be mistakes; forced or otherwise.
The South African innings was not without its drama, and remember New Zealand themselves dropped four catches of varying difficulty. But it is always the big moments later in an ODI that will get the focus; despite the fact that it was tense throughout.
The Recent Theory.
298 off 43 overs was always going to be a difficult yet possible chase given the varying facts of the way New Zealand had batted to date, the hostility of the South African bowling and Eden Park’s idiosyncrasies.
The theatre was immediate, with McCullum launching into Steyn. Two of the greatest players of their generation in a match of this significance gong toe-to-toe in potentially their last World Cups. The over that went for 25 raised the tension levels; this was officially all on. A tattooed fueled bravado battle, and NZ was back in the game.
From there the plot swayed one way and the other with neither side really getting themselves into a position of dominance. The Guptill run out came at a time when the hosts were starting to impose themselves; that was one of those mistakes. With the stakes high, players will take risks, and that leads to error.
The de Villiers let off was another one of these, as was Quintin de Kock’s similar fumble a few overs later.
Corey Anderson, who had shown real composure given the surroundings then got frustrated and holed out, tipping the balance in the favour of the Proteas. Even then it was not to be straight forward. He would stand on the boundary rope for five minutes as the umpires checked to see whether the ball had touched the annoyingly intrusive Spider Cam ropes. And people say an X-Factor elimination is drawn out suspense.
Then there was the collision between the two fieldsmen on the boundary; one of whom was a substitute and its criticality given the batsman was Elliott. That had an element of the Klusener / Donald situation in 1999 but that can be brought about by the apprehension of the moment.
And then the curtain call; a classic Daniel Vettori nibbled four, followed by a six from Grant Elliott which ignited a crescendo of noise that lasted a good ten minutes. Grant Elliott; a shock selection for some, scoring the winning runs in a Cricket Would Cup semi-final.
This was eight hours of high quality tension with numerous battles within the battle. There were several significant moments throughout the match and the result was not known until the penultimate ball. That is sport at its best, that is theatre, and that is what we love about it.
AB de Villiers was not the only person with teary eyes last night.