You dare mention the ‘c’ word. Just. Please. Don’t.
For the second straight World Cup in England, for the third straight World Cup against New Zealand, and for the umpteenth straight World Cup in all — South Africa ‘contrived’ to blow a crunch, must-win game under crunch, must-keep-calm circumstances, in a crunch, keep-it-together finish to see the lights go off on yet another bid for cricketing glory (for all practical purposes).
The World Cup’s favourite soul-crusher of a story saw another chapter added to its gut-destroying fable on Wednesday at Edgbaston — venue of the first of the Proteas heartaches almost exactly 20 years to the day — as Kane Williamson heroically marshaled his troops over the line in the last over against Faf du Plessis’ wounded warriors.
The scars from World Cups past are well-documented in South African cricket history; try as they do, the Rainbow Nation hasn’t entirely found a way, yet, to bury the ghosts of that suicidal Klusener-Donald single from 1999, or that farcical blot on mathematics from 2003, or that comical capitulation at Dhaka from 2011, or that Auckland Apocalypse from 2015.
On Wednesday evening in Birmingham, several fresh contenders leaped up to join that league of extraordinary moments. Quite like Warne '99, or Oram '11, or Elliott '15, there were also instances of glory for the victors which will remain etched in the memory.
The 10 moments — one delivery each from the frenetic final hour of Match 25 of the ICC World Cup 2019 — that decided the outcome of the Black Caps-Proteas tussle, and (for all practical purposes) sealed the fate of the South Africans.
36.2: de Grandhomme sends Phehlukwayo into the Stands
Colin de Grandhomme had arrived in the middle with the contest hung entirely in balance, but slapped the first four balls he faced with intent to claw away at the freshly-built South African momentum from the fall of James Neesham’s wicket.
After that, he got the measure of the attritional battle that was at play, as the Kiwis were curtailed to 16 runs off the next 19 balls, bringing the equation to 81 off 77 balls.
Andile Phehlukwayo had the ball, and the Proteas were building up the scoreboard pressure — and SIX.
The tall de Grandhomme wasn’t going to respect a short ball reaching up to his chest, and he pulled away into the back half of the stands, in the process pulling New Zealand away in a see-saw that was just gathering pace.
37.4: The ball eludes David Miller
Imran Tahir was bowling one of the best wicketless spells you’ll ever see to apply the chokehold for the South Africans (forgive the pun!), but the scene that was his luckless artistry would reach its crescendo in his final over, the 38th of the innings.
Having seen the ball drop short of David Miller at short-midwicket after drawing a false shot from Kane Williamson, Tahir was made to cut an agonising figure just three balls later — de Grandhomme, this time, had been gripped by a googly, and ballooned one in the same direction.
Miller hit the air-time button, and intercepted the ball, but couldn’t hold on to it.
De Grandhomme lived on.
37.6: ‘Son, you’ve failed to review the World Cup’
The Kiwi batsmen had reserved maximum respect for Tahir, eventually playing out 33 dot balls in his 10-over spell (which cost only 33), and doing everything possible to deny him any inroads.
But the 40-year-old, till the very last ball, was determined to break through — and he really should have got the prized fish to sign off on his day.
It has been said, so often, of Williamson’s silken touch, that he never actually ‘hits’ the ball. The world of the Black Caps skipper, in the mould of his peace-loving team, doesn’t tread there. It’s always more caress, or cream, or feather.
Well, the last ball of Tahir’s 10th over, Williamson did the wrong kind of feathering, with a rare, rash-blooded attempt at a glide.
Tahir burst into appeal, ready to review — like he so often is — but standing behind the stumps, Quinton de Kock hadn’t heard anything; not many at the ground appeared enthused, with the exception of Tahir.
But the worst was confirmed moments later, on the giant screens too. Williamson had, indeed, bottom-edged it, and escaped.
Williamson lived on.
Surely, all this couldn’t have been great for the blood pressure of the tournament’s oldest competitor.
38.3: Colin de Grandhomme sends Rabada into the stands
Colin de Grandhomme hit two sixes in his match-altering 47-ball 60, but the period between those two hits over the fence was the part where South Africa were riding the constantly-altering wave.
Kagiso Rabada had the ball in hand, and the South Africans were hoping to keep the asking rate above six for the final 10 overs to mount a final burst of pressure.
A Rabada short-ball was a far sterner proposition to a Phehlukwayo short-ball — to whom he had his earlier six — but it met the same fate as the one from two overs ago.
Swatted away, well over square leg, and New Zealand were left requiring 59 from the last 60 balls.
40.1: AB 2015 Encore — David Miller eludes the ball
Leaving aside Grant Elliott’s blockbuster finish, and his all-time ‘Spirit of Cricket’-clincher moment with Dale Steyn immediately afterwards, the most lasting memory — or haunting, if you’re of a South African bent — from the 2015 World Cup semi-final classic between these teams was AB de Villiers’ botched attempt at a run-out in the closing stages of that game.
The then-Proteas skipper’s hard-to-fathom error had cost his side Corey Anderson’s wicket (and 25 runs, at the end of the day), and been the ‘what if’ moment to supersede all others on the night.
In a remarkable throwback, the first ball of the 41st over saw an erroneous moment that wouldn’t have hugely out of place at a circus.
First, Williamson and de Grandhomme made a proper cropper of a run after the former had dealt a body-blow from a pacy Rabada short one: de Grandhomme ran and nearly completed the single before Williamson realised and reacted; the response was set to find him short of his crease.
Rabada, meanwhile, had swooped upon the ball, hesitated ever-so-slightly, but eventually gone for a one-bounce shy that would be comfortable enough to gather behind the stumps at the bowling crease.
Miller, however, was rushing, and not thinking at full capacity. He took the bails, but never collected the ball. Like Anderson-Elliott four years earlier, Williamson-de Grandhomme had survived, miraculously.
40.3: The tides they are a changin’
Four years ago, AB de Villiers’ fatal error had been followed, two balls later, by Grant Elliott using the angered pace of Steyn to deflect a ball to the third-man boundary and bring his side closer to the target.
At Edgbaston, another African-born New Zealand international would manage to send South Africa’s most fiery fast bowler on the day to the third man fence in the moments following Miller’s missed chance.
To those who have the Auckland saga ingrained in their minds, it brought another instant recall to the happenings from 2015.
The similarity was way too eerie to expect the script to conclude in any other manner.
44.6: Colin de Grandhomme swipes away debt
Grant Elliott was born in South Africa. Colin de Grandhomme was born in Zimbabwe.
Grant Elliott was the quintessential bit-part limited-overs cricketer; neither entirely good enough to make an XI as a pure batsman, nor as a bowler, but greater than the sum of his parts. Colin de Grandhomme isn’t too different.
They will be tied with a third commonality for the rest of their lives after another Kiwi heist against the South Africans at the big stage.
31 were needed off 30 when Chris Morris began the 45th over, and having been South Africa’s best bowler on the day, he was set to finish his day with another sterling over in the context of the game, having conceded just one from the first five balls.
De Grandhomme, having played two successive dot balls, swiped hard at the final delivery, intent on not letting the asking rate climb.
He succeeded, sent the ball across the ropes, and accomplished something he had managed only once in 22 previous ODI innings — a half-century for the Black Caps.
The equation now read 26 off 24.
45.5: The ball eludes David Miller, again
The last of the faux pas from this most recent edition of the Proteas free-fall.
An over, the 46th of the innings this time, had begun promisingly for the South Africans, before the penultimate ball went in the direction of Miller. You see where this is going, don’t you?
Lungi Ngidi had given away just three from his first four deliveries, and New Zealand were left needing 23 from 19 balls. A wicket at this stage would have set the cat among the pigeons, perhaps even tellingly.
de Grandhomme tried to capitalise on the first length ball of the over, but he got his timing all wrong — and so did Miller at the deep midwicket boundary.
To be fair, this time it was more ball-eluding-man than man-eluding-ball, unlike the evening’s two earlier Miller moments. But insult was added to injury when Rabada, backing up Miller from square leg, made a hash of his job and allowed the ball to reach the fence.
The equation had come to a run-a-ball for the first time since the start of the final 10 overs.
47.6: Kane makes the ‘dab’ cool again
To the millennial viewer/reader, the ‘dab’ is nothing else but for a dance move or a jig of sorts to set their social media timelines buzzing. Its high-profile practitioners range from Paul Pogba to Prince Harry.
The actual word, in a dialect form, means to strike with a light blow, or, more informally, even refers to fingerprints.
Post 19 June 2019, the cricket fraternity may well start a petition to add the ‘dab’ to the sport’s shot-making manual.
Williamson’s delectable touch down towards third man — several times for a single, some telling times for a four past short third man — was a delightful feature of his Edgbaston opus.
How fitting then, that he would bring it out, in its most majestic form, at the most crunch opportunity.
Having finally prized out the scalp of de Grandhomme, Ngidi seemed set to bowl his side into the final over as favourites; the first five balls of the penultimate over had gone for just two, and what had started as a breezy 14 needed off 12 had now become a nervy 12 off 7.
That would have posed a tricky challenge — and another straight reference to the Wonder of 2015 — but Williamson was having none of it.
He dabbed at it, almost as though he were dabbing at the invisible ventilator cable that was sustaining the South African dream.
48.2: Captain Kane powers his citizens home
The closing act, or the one that sealed the day at least, was the polar opposite of everything Kane Williamson. Seven were required off five, with Williamson himself one hit shy of a maiden World Cup hundred, and the New Zealand skipper spotted a slower delivery even before it left Phehlukwayo’s hands.
This one wasn’t to be met with the finesse of touch; it was time to bring out the firepower of triumph.
In an Elliott 2015 encore, Williamson slammed the ball into the stands behind cow corner, and, in the flick of a switch, went back to being his usual self: The bat raise was subdued, the helmet pulling belonging more to the third afternoon of a sure-shot drawn Test than the turbo-charged atmosphere of a World Cup encounter being decided in the final over.
With the world back in Kane’s universe, the Kiwi captain finished it off — obviously — with a gentle dab for four.
Kane’s citizens had a foot in the knockouts. The Proteas had seen their fire snuffed out.