It was a case of seventh time lucky for the Kiwis, condemned for so long to be the bridesmaids of cricket. They thoroughly deserve their first ever chance to take a proper tilt at the title. They have waited 40 years for this golden chance. On the other hand, the South Africans are further condemned to life with the albatross of ‘serial chokers’ hanging around their neck. For at least four more years, the Proteas will be the team that failed to seize the moment.
In a photo-finish semi-final, a team had to make its fortunes and not wait for the match to fall in its lap. The Proteas were guilty of not making it happen for them. They were certainly very unlucky to have rain dampen the tempo and flow of another awesomely innovative ball bashing by their skipper AB de Villiers. They got around the break well enough but were then bludgeoned by the New Zealand captain Brendon McCiullum throwing the haymaker at everything they bowled at him.
A few mover overs of such aggression from their skipper and the Kiwis would have settled down to a copybook chase well under run a ball. The Proteas had their opening when McCullum fell. Although this was a great pitch to bat on, the Kiwis were not in a position to dominate the bowling until Corey Anderson came to the party while Grant Elliot played second fiddle. The match odds changed as rapidly as the shutters on the zoom-lens cameras capturing the suspenseful action from beyond the boundary.
South Africa’s captain could have altered his team’s destiny had he been intelligent enough to complete a run out he should never have missed. Even after fluffing his line, he still had time to gather the ball and pull out a stump. But it is a given in their cricket history that when it comes to the moment, the South Africans cannot keep calm and trust their cricket instinct to complete a task. Given the run out opportunities and the catches they missed, the Proteas did not deserve to win the day.
When substitute Behardeen fluffed the lofted sitter in the penultimate over, he may have been replaying the dropped catch that Herschelle Gibbs put down infamously in a league game of World Cup 1999 to reprieve Steve Waugh. Whether the story is apocryphal or real, Waugh’s comment – “You just dropped the World Cup mate” – is now etched in cricket’s history books. Adding slices of history in repeated failures to seize the moment seems to be the lot of the Proteas.
As tears streamed down Morne Morkel’s face after Steyn got smashed for the winnings six by Elliott, one could sympathise with the cricketers of the Rainbow Nation. A steady nerve is a far greater ally than absolute intensity in sporting moments that swing contests. The Proteas’ collective nerves seemed shredded after McCullum blasted them as if their 145-kmp plus attack was that of schoolboys. They were too nervous in too many critical moments.
The Kiwis will be the sentimental favourites for the World Cup now. They have had doses of aggression injected into them by their skipper, who is fast becoming the best in their history. They keep their head and let cricketing logic lead the way as we saw in the smart manner in which Daniel Vettori helped that widish intended yorker from Steyn to the point boundary in the final over and then dashed across for a bye to let Elliott handle the business end.
It was far too late then for the Proteas. For, even if Steyn had managed to run Vettori out, Elliott would still have been in strike and he is the kind of aggressive modern Kiwi to take his team’s destiny in his hands and complete the mission as he did with that smashing stroke over long on. It is a pity there had to be a loser in such an evenly fought game. The saving grace is at least one team can now shed the baggage of the past and aim to win the World Cup in a maiden attempt.