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

'I really did feel the pressure' - Elliott

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Stephen Donald, the New Zealand fly-half, was famously called into New Zealand's 2011 rugby World Cup squad from a fishing holiday and went on to kick the winning points at Eden Park. Grant Elliott's inclusion for the 2015 cricket equivalent was not quite so last minute, but certainly was not something that appeared likely when New Zealand started planning building for the tournament.

When he played against Sri Lanka during January it was his first one-day international for more than a year. He had not been part of the series against Pakistan before Christmas which was expected to provide the World Cup squad, especially as New Zealand had rested key players and still came back to win 3-2.

Then, however, Elliott was named in the World Cup 15, at the expense of the raw but talented Jimmy Neesham. That, along with the original omission of Matt Henry, who was latterly called up after injury to Adam Milne, were the borderline calls in the squad and the ones that Mike Hesson and the selectors would be judged on. Right now, the Elliott decision is looking a master stroke.

A few weeks ago, when Australia were the visitors for the group match, Kane Williamson finished a nail-biting contest with a straight six. Sorry, Kane, you'll have to move over now. Elliott's front-foot hoick over wide mid-on against Dale Steyn, the finest fast bowler in the world, has already supplanted it as the most famous shot on this storied ground.

"I was looking to hit that ball for six or four. I was just going to line it up and wherever it was, it was going over the boundary, hopefully," Elliott said. "I didn't want to be there 70-odd and not winning this game. That was not a position I wanted to be in."

"I really did feel the pressure," he admitted candidly. "I had two balls, Dan [Vettori] said we weren't going to run to the keeper again, so it was up to me. I had two balls to try and take us. I knew that four runs would do it because a tie was as good as a win, so that was always in the back of my mind. But I think we probably left it a little bit late to be honest, and it was stressful towards the end there.

"I'm quite a level sort of person, and I like to stay out of the media to be honest. I guess it'll sink in. I think after the World Cup I'll maybe look back and sort of reassess and savour those moments."

Hitting the winnings has, however, thrown up one problem for him. "My sister has got a wedding on Friday. Unfortunately I'll miss her wedding. If you can put that in the press and say I'm sorry, I saw her earlier, she was pretty happy for me, but I'm going to have to give her a special gift, I think." 

Elliott moved to New Zealand in 2001 after three seasons in South Africa, but it was not until 2008 that his international chance came. Firstly it was in Tests, when he made his debut against England in Napier - the same match as Tim Southee - then the one-day bow came later in 2008.

"When I emigrated to New Zealand I wanted to become as New Zealander, and I've made New Zealand my team. It's great to repay the hospitality that everyone has shown when I arrived in New Zealand," he said. "I love the country. It's sad that I left South Africa when I did, and I had a lot of history there, went to school there, obviously played a little bit of cricket there and have got some good friends. But New Zealand is my home, and I'm pretty stoked to have got New Zealand to the final with that shot at the end."

His feistiness and love of the battle was evident in his first one-day series when he made 56 on a lively pitch in Bristol having come in at 42 for 4. He later chipped out 2 for 9 in the game New Zealand won by 22 runs. Three days later, at The Oval, he was involved in a controversial run out having collided with Ryan Sidebottom and New Zealand were angered when Paul Collingwood did not call Elliott back.

This World Cup semi-final is not the first time he has been a match-winner, either. New Zealand do not know their opponents for the March 29 final as yet, but either way Elliott can think back to 2009 when he guided New Zealand over the line with an unbeaten 61 in a Chappell-Hadlee contest at the MCG. Later that year, as Elliott enjoyed a lengthy run in the one-day side, he scored an unbeaten 75 to take the team home in the Champions Trophy semi-final against Pakistan in Johannesburg.

Since that match, however, he only played a further 24 ODIs in more than four years until his recall against Sri Lanka earlier this year. Even after scoring an unbeaten 104 in that series and another undefeated 64 against Pakistan, he was often the man with the spotlight thrown on him especially after a duck against Australia when he was a long way from a Mitchell Starc inswinger.

Given the way New Zealand were winning, opportunities for substantial innings were thin on the ground, but he started to chip in and insisted he was always ready. And when his country came calling, he proved he really was.

"I always wanted to play in a World Cup since the '92 tournament," Elliott said. "My mom let me stay at home to watch the first game and I got suspended from cricketing at school for a little while because I did that. But that left a massive impression on me. It's funny how life works. It's amazing to be at Eden Park and to hit the winning runs to take New Zealand into the final. It's been an awesome journey."

And a journey that nearly didn't happen.

Andrew McGlashan is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Junaid Ansari on March 25, 2015, 9:53 GMT

    Well done mat, What a story. If Newzealand win final, No one forget grant Elliott in NZ, and I think SA, to.

  • Shamalka on March 25, 2015, 3:15 GMT

    I haven't seen a real super man but I've seen Elliott. He played not the innings of his life but the innings of NZ ODI Cricket History! Take a bow - the new hero of the town!

  • Robby on March 25, 2015, 1:32 GMT

    @Lucky666, you may be wrong about SA.

    Some of the SA players behavior is worse than Warner's. The worst I have seen in years. Clarke had to give it back to Steyn to bring him back to reality. Steyn called some of the Indian players ugly names when they were last on tour in SA. You need to be humble in victory and graceful in defeat, and SA is far from it unfortunately. You do not call your opponent names just for baking well on a home track suited for you.

    We also should not forget the SriLanka tour of SA. They came out winners after being found guilty of ball tampering, just less than a year after the same violation, they incredibly got away with no bans!. Did you read what the SL players had to say after that test match? You may be way off.

  • Dummy4 on March 25, 2015, 0:16 GMT

    ABD's field placing a and bowling changes were questionable. Steyn is not the best last over bowler. History will tell you that clearly. In fact he should have bowled the 42 and Morkel the 43 rd. Bowling changes should have been planned accordingly. Frankly ABD himself would have bowled better than Steyn. 76 runs in less than 9 overs? Who lost the match for SA? For me it's the ABD - Steyn combine. Harsh words but that's the hard truth as well !!!!

  • Baskar on March 24, 2015, 22:27 GMT

    It is great to see a regular decent cricketer shine the brightest in the limelight. Keep keeping it real, Elliott!

  • Beau on March 24, 2015, 22:01 GMT

    Elliott proved he deserved his spot (to me, at least) during the huge, match winning partnership with Ronchi a couple of months go. What a call from the NZ brains trust. Brilliant foresight. Congratulations to Elliott, deserves every plaudits coming his way. Must be a little bittersweet for him and the rest of the kiwis. The friendships between opposing players were obvious last night. They must be feeling for their mates in green, so harsh someone had to come second in that most epic of tussles. Their wasn't a single loser on that field last night.

  • Nirav on March 24, 2015, 19:48 GMT

    From an Indian fan; there is a lot, a lot to learn from teams like NZ & SA, not only techniques but also the way they present themselves on ground, performance, composed, in front of media off the ground. Class..I am particularly proud of this two teams NZ & SA class. Australians are good in game; but their nasty habits of sledging without any good reason decimate them from good humans; let alone players.

  • G on March 24, 2015, 14:48 GMT

    commiserations to South Africa, they did not deserve that, but there had to be a loser and I'm glad it wasn't New Zealand. I've been rooting for them all tournament and this match was just an absolute blinder. There seems to be people able to put their hand up all through this XI - it's fantastic to see

  • ESPN on March 24, 2015, 14:16 GMT

    Elliot's batting technique was very good against the best SA attack,esp some of the boundries he had scored.The winning shot is an unbelievable one esp of steyn.Surprise that he was not getting adequate oppurtunity.