New Zealand v South Africa, 1st semi-final, Auckland March 24, 2015

New Zealand hold nerve to leave SA heartbroken


New Zealand 299 for 6 in 42.5 overs (Elliott 84*, McCullum 59, Anderson 58, Morkel 3-59) beat South Africa 281 for 5 in 43 overs (Du Plessis 82, De Villiers 65*, Miller 49) by 4 wickets (D/L method)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Grant Elliott's first fifty of the tournament sealed New Zealand's first World Cup final berth © Getty Images

Incredible, just incredible. Amid scenes of rare passion, of the like New Zealand has never seen for a cricket match, Grant Elliott played the innings of his life to carry his adopted country into the World Cup final against the land of his birth. With five needed off two balls, but effectively four because a tie would have been enough for New Zealand due to them finishing higher in their group, Elliott pulled an injured Dale Steyn high over mid-on to ensure New Zealand's adventure would stretch all the way to Melbourne.

It was a breathtaking match throughout, but the finish was something spectacular. The quarter-finals had been bemoaned for not providing a close contest. This, though, was an epic. It was also going to be historic in any case with neither side previously reaching a World Cup final, but while everything pointed to an even game it was not guaranteed.

How it delivered as New Zealand, riding on a ferocious assault by Brendon McCullum, were pushed into a position of authority by a stand of 103 between Elliott and Corey Anderson who played another composed innings. Anderson, though, should have been run out on 33 when Rilee Rossouw pinged a poor throw towards the stumps with him miles out of his ground, instead of giving AB de Villiers time to run in.

It came down to 46 needed off 31 balls when Anderson top edged to catch high into the night sky. Luke Ronchi then picked out deep square-leg to leave 29 needed off 17 balls with Daniel Vettori joining Elliott.

Then it became 12 off the last over after Elliott was given a life on the last ball of the penultimate over when he top-edged towards deep square leg where Farhaan Behardien and JP Duminy collided. A bye was scampered to the keeper off the first ball of the last, but then Elliott lost the strike again. Wait, though. Steyn was limping with what appeared a calf injury. He had treatment and charged in. Vettori squeezed a boundary behind square on off. Then another bye as New Zealand showed great awareness, before Elliott's final, crowning, moment to put an indelible seal on an extraordinary home campaign for the co-hosts.

South Africa's players slumped to their knees, emotions on full display. Some did not move from their outfield positions for a few moments. Elliott offered a consoling hand to Steyn, much as Andrew Flintoff had done to Brett Lee at Edgbaston in 2005. New Zealand's players charged onto the outfield, led by the inspirational captain who had sparked the demanding chase of 298 with a blistering display.

Only one higher total had been successfully chased on this ground in ODIs, but six overs of McCullum, after the match had been trimmed to 43 overs by rain, completely changed the complexion. McCullum has shredded attacks before in this tournament, but given the occasion and the bowlers in front of him it almost defied belief. Fourth ball he drove Steyn on the up over cover for six then he helped fetch 18 off Vernon Philander's first over. But it was in Steyn's third over that McCullum's hitting went truly berserk as he drilled him straight down the ground for six and hooked another - that one taking him to a 22-ball fifty - as the over cost 25.

It brought the required rate down from nearly seven-an-over to a run-a-ball. South Africa were rattled, but managed to halt McCullum in the nick of time when he pulled Morne Morkel to mid-on. He departed to an ovation that will linger long, yet unlike his previous barrages this was not enough to make the result certain. When Kane Williamson dragged on against Morkel, South Africa were back in the ascendency.

Amid McCullum's display it was easy to forget the man at the other end had just scored 237. Martin Guptill had only faced 11 balls when McCullum fell, but he and Ross Taylor steadily rebuilt the innings until one of Taylor's bad habits surfaced at the worst time. He played the ball square, there was hesitation, from both batsmen, over the single and Guptill just kept running to the dressing room. Taylor flung his head in the air.

There was no reprieve for Taylor, either, as he tickled a catch down the leg side off Duminy and at 149 for 4 the semi-final was starting to look New Zealand's glass-ceiling for the seventh time. However, Elliott and Anderson did not panic. They picked off loose deliveries, regularly making use of the short straight boundaries.

Anderson's let-off came, but it was still far from a comfortable ask even if the mood was changing. The first two overs of the batting Powerplay brought just 11, then Morkel went for 12, including a six over deep square by Elliott, and the same tally came off Imran Tahir who had bowled superbly to help quell the early charge. De Villiers felt he had to bowl himself and it would not have been beyond him to win the match. With each wicket, New Zealand responded. It was the counter punching of two outstanding cricket teams with their eye on the ultimate prize.

The question will be asked if South Africa came out on the wrong side of the Duckworth-Lewis calculations after their innings was interrupted with de Villiers in full flow and Faf du Plessis set for a hundred in the 38th over. On resumption they plundered 65 in five overs, mainly due to David Miller's 18-ball 49 as de Villiers lost the strike, but the adjusted 298 in 43 did feel less daunting than the 360 in 50 that could have been on the cards. All speculation, though.

That South Africa could not cut loose until the 30th over was credit to New Zealand's bowlers, led by the outstanding Trent Boult who took two early scalps to make himself New Zealand's leading wicket-taker at a World Cup with 21 victims ahead of Geoff Allott's 20 in 1999. However, for the first time in the tournament fielding let them down as four chances, albeit two tough ones, were missed.

Key to the reconnaissance was du Plessis. Worked over early on by Boult and the brisk Matt Henry, who was called-up at the last minute to replace Adam Milne, du Plessis soaked up the pressure rather than succumb to it. He had been desperate for another knockout contest against New Zealand after the heated quarter-final four years ago which ended with South Africa on the losing side. By a fluke of results he got his wish but in the end there was no redemption.

Andrew McGlashan is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Amol on March 31, 2015, 7:53 GMT

    The rate at which SA were batting at the end of 38th over, the expert commentators did say that the score was going to be **at least** 375 for SA at the end of a completed innings. Unfortunately Rain interfered and turned the balance in favor of NZL and saved them, who till the 38th over were being punished by SA, a punishment they deserved.

  • Amol on March 29, 2015, 10:45 GMT

    NZL were plain lucky to win. 1. SA had no idea they would have to bat for only 43 overs till the 38th over was done or else they would have scored faster as they did from 39th-43rd over. Also the target for NZL hence was incremented by ONLY 17 runs. 2. Rain destroys ALL bowling that follows. The Ball neither Swings nor Seams. After the rain, SA did a credible job to stretch NZL to the 43rd over. Any other team would have dropped dead due to ineffective rain-affected bowling somewhere in the 35th over.

  • Dummy4 on March 28, 2015, 4:27 GMT

    How lucky NZ while watching highlights of NZ v SA...I realized that from 30 to 38 overs...SA scored 87 runs (more than 10 runs per over) and then when match was reduced to 43 overs...SA scored 65 runs (13 runs per over) in last five years. Which mean SA scored average 11.5 runs per over in last 13 overs. Man if this match would not have reduced to 50 overs, then SA would have scored (with conservative calculation of 11.5 runs per over) minimim 230 runs. Adding 230 runs to 129 (scored after completion of 30 overs) would have make 359. Pressure of 350+ would have played different role. (In ODI odd 30 runs make different - 250 is ok score but 280 in winning score).

    NZ is a good team but this match was gifted to them and robbed from SA due to ICC stupid rules. Look at the most successful Indian team said that 300+ score is difficult to chase (because of psychological pressure it makes) and they do not even tried chasing 300 :)

  • Dummy4 on March 26, 2015, 21:06 GMT

    Not even the drooling anticipation of a teen for Prom Night can compare with NZ's and my own excitement at the Black Caps booking their tickets to the biggest dance of all.... All the best boys. Know that you are in our hearts. You've done it with sublime skill and a meritorious and attacking brand.... BUT.... It's the unerring respect for the sport, all opposition and the spirit of cricket that has won hearts most of all. It was NZ that reacted to Hughes passing with the most pathos and understanding; who let it dictate their BEHAVIOUR as well as their emotions; who let it see us all as one - rather than every one else as other; the team that picks up fallen comrades; that compliments their adversaries so much after winning they run out of time to lavish priase on themselves; the team that we feel as Kiwis, perhaps dreamily, represents the our best traits and humanity's. Kia Kaha Black Caps... and let's do this thing. #BacktheBlackCaps

  • Dummy4 on March 26, 2015, 9:13 GMT

    You can't win quality contests with FOUR bowlers. Give opposition some respect!!! Problem with SA - they think they are better than they are - unfortunately its their own staff/commentators that hype them up and they loose a sense of reality, as witnessed interviews by their captain in the WC15. Glad Kiwis won - they deserved it!

  • Chris on March 26, 2015, 8:58 GMT

    It was a great match between two great teams, and they even both made rare mistakes, possibly both knowing how much was at stake, both having one more chance to make their first final, both knowing that once again one would fail. Until the last shot of the match it was too close to call - a measure of how even the game was from start to finish.

    It is disappointing to see so many comments saying the rain ruined the match and that the DL system favoured New Zealand. Thanks to DL, rain didn't ruin the match at all. DL has been designed to be as fair as possible, with a system that takes everything into account when calculating a revised target. It may be very complex and hard to understand it but that very complexity makes it the fairest system we have ever had.

  • Harsh on March 26, 2015, 4:26 GMT

    It was a tragedy that the game had a loser .To me it was the best semi-final game since the 1999 tied game and coincidentally South Africa was a constituent in both matches.What won the game for the Kiwis was their superior mental strength and temperament.Man -to -man the Proteas were a better team but their bowling guns failed to blaze on their day in addition to fielding errors.There has arguably never been a world cup game where 2 teams have almost equally deserved a place in a world cup final from a historical point of view.The Kiwis reached the semis 6 times unsuccesfully earlier ,being a likely winner in 1992 and had a good chance in 2007 .The Proteas came on the very brink in 1999 when they were the best team of the competition and came within touching distance in 1992 and 1979..Considering their longer history of playing in the world and much better display in this current edition I feel the Kiwis were just marginally the more deserving team.

  • Bill on March 26, 2015, 0:17 GMT

    Maybe Hesson/Mcuulum will stumble on the answer as far as the bowling goes. Pace won't do it.. N.Z always so well served by slow/medium pacers who are accurate. Take the pace off and restrict rather than a fanciful belief we will knock teams over for 150 again and again. Vettori again asked to wave the wand. Mccullum has excelled as a fielding captain. Just extraordinary. Thats the tell sign how things will go in the final. Early chances will be offered when NZ bowls. Will the catches be held is the out chances. World Cup final!! Yeeha! Even discussing this is a dream come true..

  • Ant on March 25, 2015, 23:50 GMT

    There is no doubt Duckworth-Lewis played its part. Simon Doull mentioned the possibility of rain to AB De Villiers at the toss, and he said he wasn't focused on it. He chose to take a risk there and it didn't pay off, the fortunes of his team followed. Brendon McCullum and his leadership continue to change the face of NZ cricket. There has never been a better time to be a NZ cricket fan, win or lose next match. McCullum's assault was breathtaking and although his innings didn't top 60, it will sit very high as one of the best and most meaningful innings of the tournament. Every new game someone is standing up for NZ and they thoroughly deserve their world up final place