After the Auckland humdinger, SCG gets ready

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Hitting a six off the last delivery to win a match is a norm in the Twenty20 madness, but to do it in a World Cup semifinal, a batsman must have arms of steel and stay icy cool under pressure.

The Johannesburg-born Elliot could pass for a monk in search of nirvana. As the ball soared and disappeared into the crowd, he raised his arms aloft as if he had attained what he had set out to, never mind even if his native country came under his trampling feet.

Grant Elliot at 36 exhibited all the qualities required to take New Zealand across the line into the final. Not many thought he should have been in the squad in the first place. Whoever thought of bringing him into the squad must have seen his virtues and he has done no mean job, taking his team into a World Cup final.

If one team showed feelings and emotions in joy, the other could not hide the tears in despair. Yes, Abraham Benjamin, better known as AB, de Villiers knows what it is to fail to cross the semifinal stage, it has happened a fourth time for them. But at 31, he may still have another opportunity to fulfil his ambition of winning the World Cup four years down the road.

De Villiers will ruefully look back at the number of chances his side failed to grab in the field after he himself for the umpteenth time gave the side a big hope with his superlative batting.

Faf du Plessis and David Miller joined forces with their captain to give their time a defendable 281/5 in a rain interrupted game and the Duckworth/Lewis calculation pushed the target for Black Caps to 298 in 43 overs.

De Villiers will be hurt by the side missing two crucial run-out chances and also dropping Elliot five balls before the winning hit. That’s what tension does to the best of people and the South Africans have in the past succumbed to pressure to be labelled ‘chokers’.

When World Cup was played in the Antipodes in 1992, they were done in by the obnoxious rain rule which gave them a target of 22 runs from one ball after they needed the same number of runs from 13 balls when rain interrupted play. They had a couple of other near misses, the most glaring was when they could not get one run in four balls against Australia in 1999 — all they needed was a tie to win.

What one has to remember for Tuesday’s turn of events is the size and the contours of Eden Park where the healthy mis-hits clear the ropes. On fast outfields, normally once the fielder is beaten, the ball runs down to the fence whereas in Auckland once a ball is connected it is either a four or a six. And the New Zealanders knew the corners to pick.

De Villiers’ counterpart Brendon McCullum also knew what exactly needed to be done to stay in the hunt. His own 26-ball 59 kept the scoreboard ticking at a furious click and the crowd roaring.

Needing 29 from the last three overs, New Zealand would have fancied their chances as much as the Proteas. Then 12 off the last six balls was not all that easy when Dale Steyn is bowling.

One has seen the world’s top pacer being clobbered in the Indian Premier League (IPL), his own country captain hitting him left, right and centre. Grant found a perfect delivery to hoist and end the match. Actually a four with it and a tie would have seen them through as pool leaders.

That brings us to Thursday’s second semifinal between India and Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) and McCullum has no choice who he wants to face. Both are quality sides.

Looking at mind games being played by Australians players and the calmness showed by the Indians will give one an idea how the two teams are preparing for the clash.

The Indians may not have missed noticing how close Pakistan came to altering the result, putting the Australian top order under pressure with pace. India and New Zealand are the only teams that have finalised composition of their playing elevens right from Game 1.

India seldom played with five bowlers, including two quality spinners. In the past, they even risked the wicketkeeper’s position to play seven batters. This time around, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the team’s think-tank have put trust in their batsmen as well as bowlers, not bothering about their consistency.

All their top-six batsmen have shown their class and ability to get runs. Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina have hundreds and Ajinkya Rahane and Dhoni got to three-quarters of the way. And they should be able to cope with the much touted Australian pace. Don’t forget Rohit scored his double century against the Australians and also a hundred in the tri-series before the World Cup.

When it comes to bowling, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma have taught the other pacemen a thing or two as to what length and at what pace they should bowl and also use of the short-pitched deliveries.

More important, the fielding. Easily the best fielding unit India ever had. The Indians would now know what to do under pressure after seeing South Africa and also how to mount pressure.

The only thing that makes the match 50-50 is that Australia are playing at home. But they are not exactly happy that they are playing at the SCG and the stadium would be a blue of humanity.

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