New Zealand’s thrilling victory over South Africa has proved that performing well in the latter stages of this World Cup is not all down to the cricketers’ skill. After all, the Proteas boasted the tournament’s third highest runs scorer in AB de Villiers (353) and spinners Imran Tahir and Robin Peterson are amongst the top five wicket-takers. In the heat and fierceness out in the middle at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket stadium reputations counted for nothing as South Africa collapsed under the pressure and extended their World Cup jinx to five losses in five consecutive knockout games.
Being in New Zealand’s position before the game-changing dismissal of Jacques Kallis, many teams would have resigned themselves to counting the overs until defeat. At the time, chasing 114 runs of 155 balls with eight wickets in hand is a small ask for a team boasting de Villiers and Kallis in their ranks. The upbeat body language of the Kiwis however, as they themselves around the field, suggested that they were playing until the Fat Lady sang.
This attitude was aided by the presence of World Cup veterans Jacob Oram and Daniel Vettori. The latter, New Zealand’s highest wicket taker in World Cup history with 35 wickets, produced a match-winning spell of 4/33 and took a magnificent catch to dismiss Kallis. Captain Vettori showed his commitment by playing despite a knee injury and his proactive captaincy in rotating the bowlers and tinkering with the field displayed that he was always on the hunt for a wicket. Their presence and self-belief helped to electrify the younger players and Martin Guptill especially looked like a man possessed as he dived and leapt at cover before running out de Villiers.
In contrast South Africa’s spectacular batting collapse of losing eight wickets for 64 runs were the symptoms of a team unguided and unfamiliar with victory. Batting in his efficient manner, Kallis (47) looked set to bring the Proteas home but gave his wicket away playing a needlessly aggressive hook. The rate required was below five and needed Kallis only to maneuver singles and not go for the big shot. The tremors of this dismissal reverberated down the batting line-up and J.P. Duminy was clearly spooked when he played all around a straight delivery from Brendan McCullum. Playing in his first World Cup, Faf du Plessis was arguably the most affected when he ran out de Villiers (35) chasing a panicky and non-existent run.
The success of New Zealand has demonstrated that knock-out stages require the team’s more experienced members to stand up and lead from the front. Some players might get caught up in the moment and try to smack the ball out of the park or bowl a magical ball when all that is required is calmness and consistency. Tendulkar and Dhoni can take a leaf out of the Kiwi’s book in Mohali on Wednesday. In the high-strung affair not only will the eyes of the nation be on these players, but also the eyes of their teammates.