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Grant Elliott: From South Africa with love

Grant Elliott turned things around and proved his critics wrong with a match-winning knock in the World Cup semis

Grant Elliot knocked South Africa, the country he was born in, out of the World Cup

A South African tragedy that originated in South Africa

Two of cricket’s most entertaining sides in recent memory took to Auckland hoping to rewrite the record books. New Zealand had never won a World Cup semi-final in six attempts, South Africa in three.

While the Kiwis came through and extended the Proteas’ knockout misery, there was one man who stood tall amidst all the carnage. AB de Villiers’ side may be out of the World Cup, but a South African is still in with a shout of winning the World Cup.

Born in Johannesburg, Grant Elliott came through the ranks as a promising middle-order batsman who could also swing the ball. But despite playing for the South Africa ‘A’ side, he left the rainbow nation in search of new pastures in 2001.

In 2007 he qualified to play for New Zealand, and he made his ODI and Test debut in 2008 against England. After a prolific start to his ODI career, Elliott slowly started to fade into obscurity. The right-hander played just 23 matches between 2010 and 2013, averaging just 19.

So when the Kiwis announced their World Cup squad, his inclusion provoked a lot of backlash.

Surprise selection

Questions were asked about why a 36-year-old with a career ODI batting average in the low 30s, who hadn’t played for the country in 2014, was picked over promising all-rounder Jimmy Neesham for the series against Sri Lanka.

The seven-match ODI series was Elliott’s only chance to prove his worth to his critics before the World Cup. And with the game and the series firmly in the balance, the all-rounder did just that in the fifth game at Dunedin. His unbeaten 104 and world-record sixth wicket partnership with Luke Ronchi set up a massive total for the Kiwis, who eventually won the game by 108 runs.

From then onwards, it was a case of steady progress as far as he was concerned. While not always flashy, Elliott the batsman has always had an innate ability to pick his spot and caress the ball in the gap. True, he can hit a mean, long ball too, as he showed with that winning six over Dale Steyn’s head in the final over, but there is more to his game than that.

Before his inclusion, one of the problems that the Kiwis had was their middle order. Although they had plenty of players who could clear the fence with ease, they didn’t have a grafter. The Kiwis lacked someone who could drop the ball at his feet and run; someone who could keep the scoreboard ticking and not worry about hitting a boundary off every ball.

In the Johannesburg-born all-rounder, the Kiwis rediscovered that someone yet again.

Proving his critics wrong

 If the 36-year-old’s Man of the Match performance against the Proteas comes as a surprise to some, it shouldn’t. After all, it was Elliott, along with Daniel Vettori, who guided the side through another semifinal back in 2009. That time, the opponents were Pakistan and the tournament was the ICC Champions Trophy. 

Although the target was nowhere near as daunting as it was against the Proteas today, the Kiwis still needed more than 150 runs to win when Elliott and Vettori were called to the rescue. The fact that Elliott was the side’s last recognized batsman added extra pressure to what looked like an otherwise straightforward chase.

But just like he did on Tuesday, Elliott guided New Zealand home.

Towards the end of the run-chase at Auckland today, the 36-year-old’s temperament and composure – the two reasons which saw him picked ahead of Neesham – were evident. Although the Kiwis weren’t out of the game, they needed someone with a calm head to evaluate his options and pick the right moment to go big. And in Elliott, they had that someone.

The 103-run stand with Corey Anderson settled the home crowd’s nerves, but when the southpaw departed, there was still plenty of work to be done. And at the crease were two 36-year-old’s who had seen it and done it all before. For all the attacking cricket that New Zealand have played in this World Cup, they needed the calmness that only experience can provide.

In the end, Elliott provided exactly that; the lusty blow to finish things transformed him from public enemy number one to the nation’s hero.

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