More often than not, things fall into place by design. Grant Elliott was so good on that fateful night of March 24, 2015, in Auckland that with the brandishing of the willow, he sent a rapturous Eden Park into delirium. With five needed off two balls, Dale Steyn bowled a back of a length delivery and Elliott lofted it over wide long-on to power New Zealand to its maiden World Cup final. In a chat with Sportstar, the 41-year-old former all-rounder relives the final two overs of the run-chase, how he was forced to miss his sister’s wedding and more.
The topsy-turvy semifinal run-chase came down to the last over, with 12 to get. What were you and Dan Vettori discussing going into the final six deliveries?
We discussed things every ball. It was a rollercoaster of events. The over changed hands so many times and communication is a crucial part of any high-performing team. I felt like the game was missed once I hit a full toss straight to extra cover, but Dan’s shot down to wide third man is what gave us the edge again. With two balls to go, we discussed things and Dan said it was up to me to finish the game. Fair enough, I was the man in on 70 odd not out and the middle-order batsman in the team. My job is to finish games and to be honest it is the most satisfying job in the world when you manage to be there unbeaten.
With five runs required off two and Dale Steyn steaming in, what was going through your head? Was there any particular shot you were planning to execute?
The first thing that went through my head is “don’t f%^& this up!” It’s amazing how the fear of failure and negative thoughts can enter your mind. Then its a matter of “Fight, Flight or Freeze”. I have always fought my way through things in my life. There was also the issue of my sister’s wedding (on the day of the final). If I hit the winning runs, I wouldn’t be able to go. Something which relaxed me was finding people I knew in the crowd, and I could see her. So I looked towards where she was sitting. I didn’t want to be remembered as the guy who couldn’t get the team over the line in a semifinal. These moments are amazing opportunities and we have to grab them with both hands. Grit my teeth, focus and breathe! Luckily for me, it went my way.
And then came that six… Was it the loudest Eden Park has ever been because the noise after that shot was deafening!
The sound was deafening and something which I still hold a visual memory of! Amazing feeling with a nation behind you, but even better to have seen the joy of all my team-mates.
Grant Elliott celebrates the winning six. – FILE PHOTO/ REUTERS
New Zealand is renowned as a rugby-mad country, but at that 2015 World Cup, it became a cricket-loving nation. In hindsight, did that help the team go that far in the tournament?
The support was second to none in a country which is usually rugby-focussed. I experienced the rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2011. And with rugby, there is almost an expectancy to win and we are fortunate to have a world-class and dominant team. The NZ supporters were almost relieved when we won the rugby World Cup and the expectations were high. With cricket, it is quite different. I don’t think the expectations were high from the supporters. Within the group/team we wanted to win it and a considerable amount of preparation went into the tournament. The tournament started and gathered momentum after we beat Australia at home in a low-scoring game which saw Kane Williamson hit Pat Cummins for a six over mid-on. This game formed the catalyst of our home support believing that the Black Caps could win the tournament. The support from that moment on absolutely spurred the team to new heights. It was a very special and memorable time for all players and support staff involved.
To be able to play in a World Cup semifinal, and to make a difference in that game, looking back on that campaign, how does it feel now?
Our team was all about the collective and not the individual. There were so many special performances which helped us get to the final. Tim Southee’s seven-for, Martin Guptill’s 200, Dan Vettori’s leadership and catch against the West Indies, Brendon McCullum’s amazing cameos at the top, Kane Williamson’s six against Australia, Trent Boult’s whole tournament, Adam Milne’s pace, Taylor’s experience ….. the list goes on. We were a true team and everyone stepped up when we needed to. We didn’t doubt that each individual was going to be accountable and do whatever they could for the team.
Mccullum set the tone during New Zealand’s chase with a blistering cameo at the top of the order. Photo: Getty Images
How impactful was Brendon McCullum’s influence on that side and that campaign?
Brendon is a fantastic leader and someone who leads by actions and not words. Quite rare in this day and age. He was an easy man to follow, he was in the trenches with us and demanded full effort. If he got that he was happy and if he didn’t, he would let you know. He also demanded selflessness. Give your all to the team. It was about having fun and doing your best for the country. Remembering why you started playing the game as a youngster and replicating that feeling, of having the “time of your life”. Also the acknowledgement of how fortunate we were to represent our country in a game we loved so much.
Last year, it must have been hard watching the boys go down like that in the final against England, especially after having fought so hard?
It was heralded as the best ODI game the world has ever seen. Quite frankly I can’t watch that game again! It is just too painful to watch NZ lose. Plenty of mistakes made. The runs were given to England as six instead of five with the deflection and then, the super over. It is just so hard to swallow. I don’t believe we were the best team in the tournament but we made it all the way and got so close!! Hopefully, we can win the World Cup one day. I felt for the players but the way they carried themselves and the humility they showed was something which all aspiring future cricket stars can follow.
A dejected Martin Guptill (sitting down) with James Neesham after being run out in the Super Over of World Cup 2019. – FILE PHOTO/ GETTY IMAGES
How much has New Zealand cricket changed in the last five years? Both in talent and approach?
New Zealand does pride itself in being a team that is humble and selfless. I don’t think too much has changed. We have had a very successful team and the 3-0 in ODIs against India and then 2-0 in Test victories show what a world-class team and squad we have. For such a small population we punch well above our weight and the way we carry ourselves as sportsmen is a great shop window for youngsters. I believe every cricketer has a duty to behave in a way which inspires kids to believe in dreams and be proud of their country. There is no silver bullet. Working tirelessly at your passion is the only way you succeed. We have players like Kane, Ross, Trent and Tim to lead the way in that regard.
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