If you surf the social media, all what you would find are posts of condolences for South Africa’s “unexpected” semi-final exit from the World Cup that they deserved to win. Imageries of Ab de Villiers shedding tears of disappointment and posts that read South Africa are more deserving of a final entry are still doing the rounds. I don’t understand this one bit, though. Personally, I believe that if there is a side that deserves to be playing the final at the MCG, then it is none other than the men in black.
It is true that South Africa almost always enter a World Cup as one of the best teams, if not the best. Ever since they returned to cricket after apartheid, they have produced cricketers who have bedecked the folklore of cricket. But in every World Cup, they end up getting outplayed by some stellar, astounding performances from opponent teams or individuals. I do accept that they deserve a World Cup, but they need to show it by winning matches and not by winning hearts.
Kiwis and their lives in shadows
The New Zealanders, however, have lived most of their cricketing life in the shadows of the Southern hemisphere. No one pays them any heed, however good their performance maybe. They produced one of the best cricket captains in the world in Stephen Fleming, but now I wonder how many of the present generation know him. They had one of the pioneers of aggressive opening batting in Tests – Nathan Astle, but it is often Virender Sehwag who earns the credit. Mark Greatbatch was the first pinch-hitting ODI opener, but the world remembers only Sri Lanka and Sanath Jayasuriya. Martin Crowe laid the seeds that changed the way ODI cricket was played, as early as in 1992, but the world would not take notice until Arjuna Ranatunga did it in 1996.
Unlike South Africa, the Kiwis have entered most ICC tournaments unfancied, but they have gone on to outplay their counterparts. If the world can empathise with South Africa for losing the quarter-finals in 1996 and 2011 and the semi-finals in 1992, 1999 and 2011 and allude to them to be the most deserved winners, then what would you say for New Zealand’s semi-final exits in 1975, 1979, 1992, 1999, 2007 and 2011? Don’t they deserve to go one step further in this World Cup?
New Zealand played a better brand of cricket
New Zealand has never had the flair or the flamboyance of the South African team. Their players are bereft of any media potboilers and pretentiousness. But throughout the history of the game, they have had teams that have performed exceptionally well as a unit. Possibly, it is owing to the same reason the team has not produced any superstars who would live through the trials of time, save for Richard Hadlee.
Their consistency in the showpiece events didn’t jade off this time too. Or should I say that their consistency was parlayed into buccaneering audacity and unstinting ruthlessness in this World Cup? The Kiwis have been the most aggressive team in this World Cup. They are probably the only team that trust their bowlers to win them matches. They have been audacious, drenching the hearts of their fans with a lot of adrenaline and excitement.
Even though Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson were touted to be the men to watch out for coming into the tournament, the Black Caps have proved that they are not a team that rely on superstars to win. In each game, they have had different heroes. From McCullum and Williamson to Southee and Trent Boult, they have found heroes in everyone – which has helped them win most of their games quite convincingly.
Defensive South Africa only have themselves to blame
On the other hand, the South African side was overly dependent on AB de Villiers. Their bowling was mediocre despite possessing some of the best bowlers in the world. Even Zimbabwe gave them a scare by getting perilously close to the target South Africa had set against them in the World Cup opener.
The Saffas’ aversion to chasing was brought to light when they unconditionally capitulated against both India and Pakistan in the group stage. They could have easily choked in the quarter-finals, but they were saved by a Sri Lankan team that played as if they had pledged to exorcise the Proteas’ chokers tag by choking themselves.
Their tactics on the field were so laid-back that UAE managed to play more than 40 overs in their group stage clash. Even in the semi-final, JP Duminy was brought in earlier than he should have been, thereby allowing Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor to settle down. Cashing in on the tactical mistake, the New Zealanders got back into the game slowly and steadily. They were lacklustre in the field too, dropping quite a lot of catches and De Villiers, South Africa’s best fielder, missed a straight forward run out chance.
The men in black ceased the moments and kept their nerves through situations that demanded a lot of sanity and calmness, while the men in green and gold succumbed to it and crashed out: that’s it.
If De Villiers deserves a World Cup for his heart-throbbing performances, what about McCullum? What about his ruthless, devil-may-care captaincy? With the new rules and playing conditions, who would dare to place five slip fielders in an ODI match against a side like South Africa? Who would bowl out his premier bowler in the first 30 overs? Doesn’t his bravado deserve a spot in the final?
Why forget about Daniel Vettori, who is probably playing his last World Cup for his team and has done do much for his country and the game alike? Why doesn’t this gentleman deserve a World Cup? Also, why didn’t people shed tears for Brian Lara, Rahul Dravid, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene? And what about their teams?
Safety first approach let Proteas down
To those who say South Africa could have won the match if not for the rain and the eventual application of the DLS method, wasn’t it their own fault that they elected to bat first despite knowing that there was rain forecast for the match? Isn’t it a tactical blunder?
Even in the match the Black Caps were more dominant. McCullum would have got an earful from the media for burning out his nitro so early – by bowling out his main bowlers – had Dale Steyn been able to defend those 12 runs off the final over.
But undeterred by the popular defensive theories that are plaguing world cricket now, he went by his attacking instincts. The New Zealand captain was taking risks at will while the South African skipper adhered to the safety-first approach. How do South Africa deserve more here?
The Black Caps bowled aggressively and picked up early wickets, which curbed the run flow and had the South African run-rate under 5 for the better part of the innings. With the bat, McCullum was lionhearted and slogged the supposedly best bowling line-up to all parts of the ground, setting the tone for the chase.
When the big names failed following McCullum’s departure, it was a relatively unknown, unfancied man called Grant Elliott who took the side home. South Africa neither bowled with aggression nor had any bowler who can rise up to the occasion.
If Kiwis win, the game of cricket wins
The domineering Kiwis, hence, thoroughly deserve what they have earned. The result shouldn’t be seen as a victory stolen from South Africa. When it mattered, the Saffas failed and the Kiwis succeeded. A good team should remain good even while faced with tribulations – the South Africans have been unable to do it in most of their knockout matches in cricketing history.
For decades, the Black Caps have lived under the shadows of All Blacks (New Zealand’s rugby team) at home. The silent achievers of world cricket deserve some credit now. I am relieved that the New Zealand cricket team has finally managed to produce a breakthrough. If they can manage to cling onto a victory in the final, cricket will emerge victorious, for it is the game that would lose if they don’t come out as champions.