World Cup 2015 March 29, 2015

De Villiers' heartbreak, and Johnson owns Spartacus

ESPNcricinfo's correspondents at the World Cup pick their best moments of the semi-finals

A bittersweet symphony © AFP

Arya Yuyutsu: The heartbreak
New Zealand v South Africa, Auckland, March 24

"Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life," sang The Verve back in 1997. It echoed in my head as I walked onto the pitch to interview some players after an exhilarating semi-final. Even as a capacity crowd at Eden Park cheered on their team taking a victory lap, AB de Villiers, vanquished, stood by the post-match presentation area, waiting for the formalities of interviews to be done.

He stood staring at the jubilant New Zealand team with a mix of exhaustion and longing. His eyes had glazed over and his expression was blank. It wasn't sorrow, it wasn't hurt; it was worse: it was numbness. It hadn't yet sunk in and, for a few more moments, he didn't want it to. He had to do an interview in a minute, graciously accepting defeat, shielding himself from pain while his heart began to break into 53 million pieces: one for each South African who felt what he did.

Andy Zaltzman: The Dhoni run-out
Australia v India, Sydney, March 26

MS Dhoni, amongst his many achievements, can end a World Cup campaign in spectacular fashion. He ended his 2011 World Cup with one of the most memorable single shots ever struck, a triumphant, symbolic launch into the Mumbai skies. He concluded his 2015 tournament with another unforgettable big-match moment. Memorable (but not as memorable), symbolic (but not as symbolic, and symbolic in a very different way), and 100% less triumphant.

In Mumbai four years ago, the final was 99% won, and Dhoni's six was the moment that confirmed victory. In Sydney on Thursday, the semi-final was, at a conservative estimate, 99.9% lost, and Dhoni's run-out confirmed the end of his and India's World Cup reign.

With 99 needed from 34 balls, he dinked Mitchell Starc to Glenn Maxwell, fielding at a deep-set midwicket on the edge of the circle. He immediately set off for what looked like it would be a reasonably safe, albeit now completely pointless, single. Maxwell collected the ball and flung it stumpwards. The crowd stood and watched.

As, effectively, did Dhoni, who decelerated in the manner of a batsman who knows he is going to be run out by yards, rather than in the manner of a batsman who would almost certainly make his ground if (a) he is as quick as MS Dhoni, and (b) he keeps running, and slides his bat in, and/or dives. Maxwell's throw hit the one visible stump, and the 0.1% chance had gone.

It was a subdued and curiously defeatist conclusion to a subdued and defeatist passage of play, an inappropriate ending to what had been an excellent Indian title defence, right up until Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Johnson snuffed out their early charge at the SCG.

Sharda Ugra: Johnson owns Spartacus
Australia v India, Sydney, March 26

Virat Kohli v Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Johnson v Virat Kohli. What's not to watch? Johnson had handed over the spotlight to Mitchell Starc during the World Cup, until the semi-final, but the SCG had set it up nicely for him to return. As enforcer, against the one man who had taken him on, eye to eye for the better part of the season. Johnson's nine-ball 27 had taken Australia to a total that felt secure. When he came in to bowl and found Kohli before him, it was a red rag to a bull. Kohli had been dismissed thrice by Johnson in six innings in the summer and it had found its way into Johnson's muscle memory. He pounded Kohli with short balls, and had one zip across his off stump. Kohli couldn't resist the pull, top-edged the ball into Brad Haddin's gloves. Throughout the Test series, Kohli had played something between Spartacus and Errol Flynn against Johnson. As he left Sydney, naturally, it became the moment that the World Cup had begun to slip away from India.

"Melbourne, here I come" © Getty Images

Andrew McGlashan: Elliott takes flight
New Zealand v South Africa, Auckland, March 24

Grant Elliott was close to not being in New Zealand's World Cup squad. He had not been part of the pre-tournament recce to the MCG. He doesn't even have a central contract. But he had plenty of things Brendon McCullum and Mike Hesson wanted: experience, guts and composure. They were all on show in a dramatic, epic finale to the Auckland semi-final. Five were needed off two balls, but four was enough for New Zealand, who only needed to tie to progress. Dale Steyn, limping but still fast, banged his delivery back of a length and Elliott hoisted it over wide long-on to send a nation into raptures. There was the most incredible noise at Eden Park, tension and raw emotion released as the ball sailed high into the stands. A short while later, as his team-mates continued to absorb the moment, Elliott said to his captain: "Does this mean I get to come to Melbourne?"

Firdose Moonda: A mixed soup of sentiment
New Zealand v South Africa, Auckland, March 24

It all came down to two balls. Years of planning was reduced to a minute. Dale Steyn v Grant Elliott. Six to get. Two to bowl. South Africa's nerves were evident in the fidgety fielding. New Zealand's in their crowd support. Steyn had just received treatment for what seemed a sore hamstring. Elliott surveyed the field. Most men in. Steyn bowled. Length. Elliott struck. Distance. The ball sailed into a frenzied crowd. Arms went up in joy. Grown men sank to their heels. Smiles, tears and emotion mixed in a soup of sentiment. I'll never forget it.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Graham on March 30, 2015, 4:50 GMT

    Kirstenfan:And you could have had the opportunity if you were good enough to beat NZ. No point with what ifs NZ won the crucial game and deserved the right to play the final.

  • andrews on March 30, 2015, 2:49 GMT

    Arthur Galletly, that format is pretty much the one used for the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, except that it then went to a super 8 stage, which became too long for some people. The format has not been repeated because India and Pakistan missed the last 8, and felt it was unfair that the 3 first round games carried so much weight. You can't manipulate a group of death. It either happens or it doesn't. Group placements have to be based on seedings. There is still much suspicion about the group division for the 1975 cup, which had clearly the best 3 teams (Australia, West Indies, and Pakistan) in the same group, giving the hosts england an armchair run to the semis. Truefactors and views vault, you need to be challenged. India were nowhere near the second best team in this comp, performing poorly in every game after their win over SA. And it needs to be recognised that SA had their semi-final on toast until the rain came.

  • Dummy4 on March 29, 2015, 22:51 GMT

    With two pools of 7 teams playing 6 games each there were 42 games at the pool stage. Make it 16 teams with four groups of four teams, and each team plays just 3 games at the pool stage, for 24 pool games in total. You might have a group of death to add some spice, and the chances of a "minnow" making the quarter finals are increased. Yep, INCREASE the number of teams participating to grow the game, but shorten the duration of the tournament at the same time. Not rocket science!

  • MehulG on March 29, 2015, 19:22 GMT

    In WC, Aussie team was by far the best team. India was at distance well behind as second best, NZ was third best and SA was at #4. With fire-power, SA should have perform better, and India should have chase down offered 329. They lost their chances by mental game.

    India kept losing against Aussie team all last season, and they had this in back of their mind. This hurtled Indian batsmen majorly. SA pad price of Amla's untimely ans rare inconsistency.

  • Jurie on March 29, 2015, 18:51 GMT

    Um, Pawan, SA clearly played SL and obliterated them. SA may well have beaten Aus, as clearly SA was the only team with batting and bowling firepower to challenge Aus. So would have been a munch better final than NZ could muster.

  • Abdul on March 29, 2015, 18:37 GMT

    This WC proved once again that mental toughness and big match temprament are just as important as cricketing skills. Congrats to NZ for reaching the final.

  • Dummy4 on March 29, 2015, 14:59 GMT

    Akshay, we must put SA loss is proper context. This WC effectively had 6 title contenders - SA, AUS, NZ, IND, PAK and SL. SA was beaten by IND, PAK and NZ. They did not play SL and AUS. AUS would surely have beaten them. SL may or may not. So how is such a team worthy of winning the WC?

  • Dummy on March 29, 2015, 9:13 GMT

    Views Vault you seem to be an Indian cricket team for sure becaue such a thing can only come from that kind if a fan. Soth africa's loss is talked about because they would have won if there was no rain, they were cruising to 350. To bowl out NZ in 43 overs in NZ wasn't easy even for Australia, NZ just had to play 43 overs to win. Surely rain did the damage, what did South Africa got? 18 runs? They weren't enough surely. Sa is any day a better team than the overrated Indian team who reached to semis just because of favours given to them...flat pldrooin pitches and a 3 months tour to practice on aussie conditions even when they toured Aus a season ago

  • Dummy4 on March 29, 2015, 7:37 GMT

    There are moments in sports,which will be remembered even after 20years or more.SA bitter luck will be always talked about.They give it all against NZ, but tears won eventually.AB, results isn't your control always,efforts are.And you are a winner any day, no matter what end results are.....Love to see you more in coming days.

  • Dummy4 on March 29, 2015, 7:08 GMT

    Ohh, enough already about ABD and South African heartbreak. How is their heartbreak greater than other losing teams? How is his pain more acute than other greats who haven't tasted worldcup success? This South African failure is being romanticized too much. A team that did not win against the bigger teams in the prelims, lost to a better team in the SF. Cricket wise, there is no surprise there. SA went longer than they've ever been in world cups, they should be happy.

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