The ball flew over the midwicket region into the stands. The ground erupted. 40,000 people roared. Fireworks broke the sound barrier and lit up the night sky. Elliott balled his fist and celebrated. Vettori walked up to him and hugged. And it was done.
New Zealand are a good team; a great team. But they peaked recently. They hit a purple patch in those tennis court sized fields they call cricket grounds. But their celebrations after the match against South Africa were not ones of jubilation. It wasn’t a team of fifteen running in screaming from the pavilion, picking up Grant Elliott and huddling together to celebrate a victory that is beyond comprehension. Remember, this is a team that has never gotten to the finals.
The ball flew over the midwicket region into the stands. DeVilliers watched the ball soar over his head and collapsed in a heap on the ground. Morkel’s world crumbled around him as he struggled to hold back those tears gushing down his cheeks. Faf cared a lot less about what the cameras could record. His emotions had taken him over and he felt no shame in crying. In defeat. In sadness.
If South Africa had been defeated outright, they would have walked back in shame. But again, yet again, this was another close fought contest where another team edged their neck ahead by inches in the last moment. Another game where a couple of mistakes changed the complete course of the game. Another game where South Africa were extremely good, but not good enough.
A careless Gibbs celebrating prematurely, a dumb Allan Donald not knowing what the word ‘Yes’ means, a confused Duminy not knowing that Behardien was half a foot away - these are simple mistakes, but ones that change games and cost you a 3 foot tall golden trophy that you have never held in your life.
But as I watched the closing scenes of the game before Sanjay Manjrekar came on to give his ‘opinions’, thanks to his ‘expertise’ in ‘the game’, I saw something.
Grant Elliott picked up Steyn and consoled him. New Zealanders celebrated but not in South Africa’s face. It was almost as if the Black caps themselves knew that for some reason, in some deep crevice in their heart, they believed that South Africa deserved to win.
I may be wrong in assessing this, but I had a feeling that if South Africa had won, New Zealand would have congratulated the ecstatic South Africans, patted themselves on the back for having played a phenomenal World Cup up until now, gone back to their dressing rooms, gotten a few beers and carried on with their lives.
I may be trivialising New Zealand’s accomplishments. They equally deserved to win, if not more. But, for South Africa’s brutal past, the number of times they have gotten ‘so close but not quite there’, South Africa needed to win this. They needed a final.
The press conference where DeVilliers broke down, the vines of Steyn, Morkel and Faf crying - these aren’t going viral because they look emotional or funny. It’s because people all over the world cried with them. They felt the same amount of pain. They felt, as DeVilliers put it - gutted.
They somehow wanted South Africa to win this. They wanted them to huddle together and scream in joy and bounce around. They wanted DeVilliers to finally smile and celebrate. Not sit quietly in front of journalists and choke over his own tears. Not choke at all. Not ever.