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.