The 2019 Men’s Cricket World Cup finally got what it needed, a genuinely exciting match which went down to the wire. In hitting the third ball of the 49th and final over for four New Zealand’s captain Kane Williamson – who had brought up his century with a six the previous ball – took his team to a dramatic four wicket win, ensuring that his defeated opponents South Africa, will not qualify for the semi-finals.
The game was of peculiar interest precisely because of South Africa’s precarious position in the tournament, and the fact that, so far, New Zealand had only played the “easier” sides. A victory for South Africa, it was felt, would keep the qualification process alive and kicking for longer. (There is a similar feeling about tomorrow’s encounter between Australia and Bangladesh.)
And there were times when it really did seem that South Africa might win. When New Zealand suddenly slumped from 72 for one to 80 for four, South Africa seemed to be firm favourites. They found themselves in this unexpected position partly through sheer luck. Martin Guptill, who appeared to be setting himself up for a substantial innings, slipped while setting off for a run and was out hit wicket. Then Ross Taylor got himself out edging one down the leg side. Tom Latham was genuinely got out by Chris Morris and New Zealand seemed in real trouble.
But Williamson was still there. He has been there before of course. He masterminded a terrific run chase against Australia in the 2015 World Cup, winning the match with a six off Pat Cummins. Here, at least to begin with, he was not at his fluent best. His shots kept finding the fielders, and by the time New Zealand batted it was clear the pitch was not an entirely straightforward one for batting.
Everyone knew, from the moment Latham was out, that if Williamson was still there at the end of the 49th over New Zealand would win. The question was, would anyone be able to stay with him. The lower middle order had hardly been required to bat in the tournament so far. But the all-rounders Jimmy Neesham and, in particular, Colin de Grandhomme, did their captain proud. New Zealand’s problem wasn’t just the loss of wickets. They were also falling behind the asking rate. It was the muscular de Grandhomme – like Grant Elliott, the hero of the 2015 semi-final between these two sides, born in South Africa – who took the game by the scruff of the neck and wrenched it in New Zealand’s favour. He didn’t make it to the end. His fall, for 60 off 47 balls, to the first ball of the 48th over gave the game a dramatic penultimate twist, bringing in Mitchell Santner with 14 to win off 11 balls. Williams deliciously glided the final ball of the 48th and penultimate over to third man for four leaving Santner on strike to face the first ball of the last over with eight to win. A single off the first ball put Williamson on strike, and he delivered his consummate coup de grace, smashing Andy Phehlukwayo over midwicket for six.
The game demonstrated, as so many have done before, that you don’t need massive scoring to make an exciting contest. But the first part of the day did seem strangely low key. The delayed start didn’t help. Overnight rain meant a noon start, rather than 10.30, but with the loss of only one over per innings.
Williamson put South Africa in, and Trent Boult removed Quinton de Kock in his first over. Faf du Plessis also didn’t last long, missing a snorter from Lockie Ferguson. Hashim Amla was the mainstay to begin with but he couldn’t really get going. He made 55 off 83 balls. There were times, particularly when de Grandhomme, the fifth bowler, and Santner were bowling in tandem that South Africa became completely becalmed. At one point de Grandhomme bowled five overs for six runs.
It was the industrious Russie van der Dussen who gave the innings some momentum, aided towards the end by David Miller. South Africa added 75 in the last ten overs, van der Dussen finishing on 67 not out. 241 for six didn’t seem quite enough.
And of course in the end it wasn’t – but only just. If South Africa had held all their catches, who knows how things might have ended. It showed that New Zealand might still struggle against the better sides. But what it also showed was the absolute supremacy of Williamson as a batsman, his technical mastery, his style, and his mental fortitude. If we see a better innings from anyone during this World Cup, we will be fortunate indeed.
Bill Ricquier, from Edgbaston
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