And so, after almost two months of cricket, Australia and New Zealand will battle it out for the World Cup this weekend. New Zealand won a nail-biter over South Africa in one semi-final while Australia won comfortably over India in the other.
While I was rooting for New Zealand from the beginning of the tournament, I had some doubts over who would provide a sterner test for the Aussies: the Kiwis or the Proteas. South Africa, I felt, had the more powerful, better balanced side. New Zealand, I thought were too dependent on Brendon McCullum. Well, they certainly proved me wrong. First, Martin Guptill smashed an unbeaten 237 against the West Indies in the quarterfinal and then Grant Elliot kept his cool to steer New Zealand to victory in the semifinal with an electrifying 84. What impressed me no end was that he crashed a Dale Steyn delivery for six off the penultimate ball rather than going for a safe four that would have given them a tie and still left him the last ball to get the winning runs. I have no more doubts about them now: they can beat anyone in the world.
Enough has been written about the NZ-SA semifinal that I don’t want to add to it. Glad as I am that New Zealand won, spare a thought for gallant South Africa. They gave it their all and came so close to winning. I really feel for them. After the match, De Villiers said rather plaintively that he hoped that the country was proud of them and their performance. He need not wonder about it. South Africa gave it everything they had and, together with NZ, played a match that will long be remembered not just for the quality of the cricket and the nerve wracking finish but for the sportsmanship with which the game was played.
In the other semi-final, Australia were too powerful for India. I had wondered at some of the pre-match predictions that said India should be considered a favorite for the match. India did extremely well to win decisively over South Africa and Pakistan in the group stage matches and to make it the semi-finals. Their only chance to beat the Aussies was to play a perfect game and get a couple of breaks. It didn’t happen as the batsmen let India down once again even as the bowlers bowled their hearts out. Still, India have nothing to be ashamed off and can hold their heads high. Farewell to M.S. Dhoni, who has been India’s best captain ever. He has already retired from Test cricket and will probably announce his retirement from the other two formats soon. Whoever follows him will find it difficult to match his achievements.
Why do Australian cricketers sledge ? They have had unparalleled success for a long time now and they are very, very good. Why can’t they just stick to playing the game. For Faulkner to say that sledging is part of the game is rubbish. Yesterday, when Oz was well on the road to victory, Mitchell Starc felt it necessary to spew venom at Suresh Raina and was duly reprimanded by the umpire. Such behavior is why the rest of the world will be solidly behind New Zealand in the final. Rarely has there been a confrontation in which the good guys and the bad guys were so clearly distinguishable. Go New Zealand.