World Cup 2019: SA vs NZ was an encore of Auckland 2015, a clash between chokers and dark horses
This World Cup 2019 needed a contest that lived up to its billing. The contest between arch-rivals India and Pakistan turned out to be a one-sided contest, and the fans were hungry for a dramatic encounter.
South Africa vs New Zealand had always been perceived as a normal cricket match-up until the 'tragedy' of Auckland in March 2015. Even though New Zealand had had the better of South Africa since 1999, it was still anybody's game on that particular day.
The tied semifinal of 1999 was the game which gave South Africa the 'chokers' tag, and 2015 proved to be concrete proof of that. That year Mr. 360 AB de Villiers was in sublime form, hitting the ball to all parts of the ground. Due to rain New Zealand had to chase 299 in 43 overs, which was a tough ask.
They were immensely helped by South Africa's butter fingers in the field. With 14 required off the last over South Africa backed their best bowler Dale Steyn to defend that score. He brought it down to 5 from 2 balls.
The hero of that match, who managed to keep New Zealand in the game, was unbeaten on 78. He smashed the best fast bowler in the world into the Grand Stand to give New Zealand a place in their first World Cup final.
Just like 1999, South Africa had managed to lose from the jaws of victory. After that game New Zealand vs South Africa in World Cups became a match-up that fans became heavily excited about.
The scars of 2015 have clearly had an impact on South African cricket. Their white ball form has been suspect, especially after their best batsman retired last year. And when it comes to World Cups they have never really been the tournament favorites due to their history.
This campaign has been disastrous for them, with only one win in six matches. In the do-or-die game against New Zealand yesterday they needed to give their 100% on the field. On what seemed like a two-paced wicket, they managed to get 240, giving their bowlers something to play with.
Wickets at regular intervals kept them in the hunt, reducing New Zealand to 80/4. It required a Grant Elliot kind of innings to push the Kiwis over the line. Who better to do it than the captain himself? Kane Williamson scored his first World Cup hundred under immense pressure.
With 12 needed off 7 balls it was still anybody's game. But just like 2015, a six in the last over sealed the game. And Williamson emulated the heroics of Elliott in one fell swoop.
South Africa only have themselves to blame for their performance in this World Cup. With the loss against New Zealand, the phrase that might come to mind is - once a choker, always a choker.
South Africa's talent and pool of players are way better than New Zealand, and they have repeatedly beaten them in bilateral series. But at the big stage they continue to be chokers - they failed to review a caught-behind appeal off Williamson that replays showed was out, and also missed a simple run-out chance of the captain when the game still hung in the balance. If they had taken either of those two chances, they might have been the victors instead of the losers.
New Zealand have gone slightly above being dark horses, while South Africa continue to bottle in the big moments. At the end of the day, it can be said that Auckland 2015 has had a huge impact on South Africa's psyche - an impact that they might struggle to overcome in the near future.
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