World Cup: New Zealand vs South Africa semi-final showed brutal yet beautiful side of cricket

Sport is beautiful. It's a contest between two fit sets of athletes, bringing years of training and skill to the fore, putting on a show in a coliseum of raucous admirers and one-eyed aficionados. And sport is brutal — where the winner takes all and the other goes home empty-handed — with a mind full of what-ifs.

At its best, when the contest has been close, the victors rise above the results to recognise that the show they put on in the theater of dreams would not have been possible without their opponent, and extend a helping hand to lift the vanquished off the turf. Sport is beautiful. Again.

At Eden Park, after 86 overs of closely fought cricketing contest, Morne Morkel fell to the ground, broken. Tears were rolling down his face. Dale Steyn had fallen in his follow through, a beaten man, lying on his back as if he was still looking at the trajectory of the heart-breaking shot Grant Elliott had just played to take New Zealand to their first ever World Cup final.

 World Cup: New Zealand vs South Africa semi-final showed brutal yet beautiful side of cricket

At its best, when the contest has been close, the victors rise above the results to recognise that the show they put on in the theater of dreams would not have been possible without their opponent. AFP

It is that suddenness of defeat that swallows you whole. From the giddy positive feeling where a spot in the final was only six Steyn deliveries away, to the bottomless abyss of dark realisation that your World Cup is over — cricket can deliver such a swift cruel shift in fortunes. It provides promises of everlasting glory and endless sorrow.

It is not so new — Steyn with ball in hand, bowling the last over of a match, trying to prevent New Zealand from winning. He did it on 24 March 2014 in Chittagong, with the Kiwis needing 7 runs to win in the World T20. He delivered five dot balls, three of them for wickets — and brought South Africa home with 2 runs to spare. So you can imagine the confidence South Africans had when their gun stood on top of the mark with 12 runs to defend.

And this was no choke. Not one of the 41,279 that were on the edges of their seats in Auckland would have been able to declare one of the teams a favourite at any stage of the match. It was close. From beginning to end. Every time one side tried to get ahead, the other swiftly sped past the other.

There were dropped catches and missed run outs from both sides. There was a case of the nerves. Of course there would be — neither side had ever been in a World Cup final before. Knowing that any false step could be the last step they take in the tournament would cause even the coolest of the cool to sweat a bit.

In such a tightly fought contest, with tensions rising with every delivery, the taut string finally broke as Elliott — re-enacting Kane Williamson from a few weeks ago against the Aussies, lofted Steyn over long on to seal the game with a six. And with it, the emotions kept in check for eight hours poured out — joy and sorrow, high fives and collapses and beaming smiles and tears.

South Africa's coach Russell Domingo said his boys were 'broken' and AB de Villiers — with blood-red eyes and a pale face, fighting to hold back the tears — muttered that he was 'hurting' and the defeat was 'painful'. South Africa have been at the receiving end of several heartbreaks over the years and people argued that they were 'chokers' — but de Villiers had said previously that he enjoys the tag and in fact his team 'thrives' on that claim. At the end of the semifinal, he can go home with the assurance that a heroic effort was needed to stop him and his team.

That effort started with Brendon McCullum's blistering start and ended with Elliott's six. On sealing the win, he let out a giant roar and was mobbed by his teammates. But soon enough, the compassionate cricketer in him found Steyn lying on his back on the deck and he offered his hand to lift him up.

As Philosopher Domingo has been telling his wards all along — the sun will come up again tomorrow — and another cricket match will try to capture our mind space. People will long remember this semifinal and how it played out, but more than that, it will be the players who played this wonderful game of cricket that will stick in our memory for a very long time.

Cricket is brutal, yes, and yet, it is so beautiful.

Updated Date: Mar 25, 2015 12:41:09 IST