Johannesburg-born Grant Elliott’s 84 not out, capped with a stunning six off the penultimate ball, saw New Zealand to a four-wicket win over South Africa in a cliffhanger World Cup semi-final at Auckland’s Eden Park on Tuesday.
Elliott’s winning six, off injured South Africa fast bowler Dale Steyn, took New Zealand into the World Cup final for the first time and they will play the winner of Thursday’s second semi, between Australia and India in Sydney, in Sunday’s showpiece match in Melbourne.
New Zealand faced a revised target of 298 under the Duckworth/Lewis method after South Africa made 281 for five in 43 overs.
Black Caps skipper Brendon McCullum made a typically quickfire 59 off 26 balls at the head of the innings.
Then came a valuable 103-run partnership between Elliott and Corey Anderson and New Zealand appeared to have the game in hand with six overs to go.
But Morne Morkel regained the initiative for South Africa by taking a wicket and conceding only one run in the 38th over and by the start of the 43rd — and final — over New Zealand required 12 to win.
They started with a bye, a single, a four to Daniel Vettori, another bye and then Elliott smacked Steyn high into the stands as New Zealand, after losing all six of their previous World Cup semi-finals, completed a thrilling win.
South Africa have now failed to win all four World Cup semi-finals they have contested.
The Proteas were also undone by two squandered run-out attempts and an embarrassing collision between JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien which resulted in a dropped catch from Elliott off the last ball of the 42nd over.
“These boys, I am so proud of them. A lesser team would have laid down today,” said McCullum, who propelled his team to 71-0 after just five overs.
“It’s really painful. We had opportunities and it will take us a long time to get over this,” he said.
As McCullum flung his bat at the start of New Zealand’s run chase, de Villiers was forced to take three of his frontline bowlers out of the attack.
Vernon Philander, replacing Kyle Abbott in the side, gave up 14 runs to McCullum with his first over and was immediately replaced by Morkel.
Morkel also lasted one over that cost 14 runs but came back from the other end after Steyn himself was taken out when McCullum hit two sixes and three fours off his third over.
The return of fast bowler Morkel paid immediate dividends. He undid McCullum who plopped a simple catch into the hands of Steyn at mid-on and in his next over he bowled Kane Williamson.
Martin Guptill, looking to back up his World Cup record 237 not out against the West Indies in the quarter-final, made 34 before being run out in a mid-pitch mix-up with Ross Taylor.
Taylor was soon caught behind and New Zealand were 149 for four when Elliott and Anderson set the foundation for a victory push before the latter was out for 58.
Earlier, De Villiers had set South Africa up for a big finish only to be denied seven overs when rain swept in when they were 216 for three in the 38th over.
He produced a rapid 65 not out and, following the two-hour rain break, David Miller’s boundary-laden 49 from 18 deliveries got South Africa up to 281 for five. Faf du Plessis top-scored with a patient 82.
Luck was with South Africa when they won the toss, elected to bat and gained early momentum when edges raced to the short boundaries.
New Zealand wicket-keeper Luke Ronchi dropped Quinton de Kock on six and Trent Boult missed a difficult chance to catch Hashim Amla.
But left-arm paceman Boult, the tournament’s leading bowler with 21 wickets, added to his tally by dismissing Amla and de Kock on his way to figures of two for 53.