After hitting the six which gave New Zealand a four-wicket win over South Africa in a thrilling World Cup semifinal on Tuesday, Grant Elliott first raised his arms in jubilation, then extended his hand in compassion to the man who bowled the final ball.
South Africa fast bowler Dale Steyn was allocated the final over with New Zealand needing 12 runs to win, 11 runs to tie, and with a tie being enough to carry New Zealand into Sunday’s final in Melbourne.
Both New Zealand and South Africa were trying to reach that final for the first time — New Zealand after six previous losses in semifinals, South Africa after a long history of slip-ups, miscalculations, and form implosions in playoff games.
Finally, it came down to two balls remaining, New Zealand needing five runs to tie, and the hopes of both teams hanging on Steyn and on Elliott.
Elliott had some success in working Steyn’s yorker for runs, using the pace of the ball, so South Africa captain AB de Villiers advised Steyn to try a good-length ball. He did — Elliott stepped away to give himself room, and clubbed the ball over the fielders’ heads and into the grandstand at long-on.
Steyn fell to the ground in horror, and lay there almost paralysed with shock and disappointment, seemingly bearing on his own shoulders the bitterness of his team in defeat.
Elliott first thought to celebrate, to acknowledge his teammates and the crowd, but when he looked to Steyn he felt only compassion for a rival in distress.
“You have to feel compassion ... humble in victory, and humble in defeat,” Elliott said. “It’s just part of me I guess. It’s who I am.
“I felt quite sorry for him, quite sorry for the South African guys for losing the game. It could have been us, it could have been me sitting there having missed the last two balls, and I would have been pretty gutted as well, along with 40,000 people in the stadium.
“I just felt a bit of compassion. It means a lot to them. They’ve never made a final, and we wanted it just as much as they did.”
De Villiers described Elliott’s match-winning blow as the greatest shot he will ever play, and Elliott agreed that it probably was.
“That’s the moment that you first feel the release of emotion,” he said. “Cricket is the sort of game where you have to be quite unemotional in your approach.
“It was a great feeling to look at the team and look at the crowd and savor that moment and realise that we were through to the final.
“I really did feel the pressure. I felt the pressure with two balls left, and Dan [Vettori] said he wasn’t going to run to the keeper again, so I knew it was up to me. I had two balls to try to take us home.”
Elliott imagined such a moment as a child growing up in his native South Africa, watching South Africa’s matches at the 1992 World Cup. He couldn’t know then that he would one day migrate to New Zealand, and that it would be in the colours of his adoptive nation that his dream would be relived.
“I always wanted to play in a World Cup since the ‘92 World Cup,” Elliott said. “My mum let me stay at home for Australia against South Africa, and I got suspended from cricket and from school for a little while.
“That left a massive impression on me. I felt that tournament with the coloured clothing was what I wanted to do. It’s funny how life works, to be at Eden Park, and to hit the winning runs to take New Zealand into a final.”