New Zealand upsets the odds at World Cup _ again

March 26, 2011
New Zealand cricketers react after winning against South Africa during the Cricket World Cup quarterfinal match between South Africa and New Zealand in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, March 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)
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New Zealand cricketers react after winning against South Africa during the Cricket World Cup quarterfinal match between South Africa and New Zealand in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, March 25, 2011.

Not surprisingly, skipper Daniel Vettori balks at the idea that New Zealand's failure to win any of its previous five World Cup semifinals might be seen as somehow disappointing.

For while South Africa's players troop home after another earlier-than-expected exit, New Zealand's celebrate reaching a remarkable sixth World Cup semifinal following a 49-run win in Friday's quarterfinal.

"We've got four million people," Vettori said. "People put a negative slant on it but I think it's a wonderful achievement for a country so small."

New Zealand is yet to reach a World Cup final, but only the harshest critic would put a "negative slant" on it. In its five semis, the Black Caps have been beaten by Pakistan (twice), Sri Lanka, England and West Indies.

Put simply, South Africa (population: 49 million), has lost matches it should have won, New Zealand has won matches it should have lost, and Friday's backs-to-the-wall victory over the Proteas was a prime example.

The Kiwis' score of 221-8 did not seem to be enough, especially when South Africa got past 100 for the loss of two wickets, but a magnificent effort in the field began to turn the tide in their favor — and crucially put doubt in the minds of the South African players.

"The way we bowled and particularly the way we fielded probably got us through to victory," Vettori said. "The whole way through there was a sense of belief that if we could get into the South African middle order then we had a chance."

Vettori mentioned Martin Guptill's throw to run out AB de Villiers as key. Jacob Oram's spectacular running catch on the boundary to remove Jacques Kallis was equally crucial. Oram also took four wickets to claim the man-of-the-match award.

The win earned Vettori at least one more match before he hands over the captaincy of New Zealand's limited-overs team, and simultaneously ended Graeme Smith's tenure of the South African one-day team.

New Zealand now travels to Colombo where it faces Sri Lanka or England on Tuesday.

It is a journey that seemed far-fetched when the World Cup began. New Zealand came into the tournament on the back of heavy series losses in India and Bangladesh. It had at least ended an 11-match losing streak with two wins at home against Pakistan — at the start and finish of a losing series against Pakistan.

Comprehensive defeats by Australia and Sri Lanka in the group stage hardly raised expectations — despite coming either side of a 110-run win over Pakistan at Kandy — and when New Zealand's big-hitting batsmen were reined in by some clever South African bowling in the quarterfinal, the writing appeared to be on the wall.

Crucially, the New Zealand players themselves never seemed to lose hope — and Vettori explained why.

"250 would have been a really good score but 220 we always knew was defendable," he said. "It made it into 250, the way we bowled."

And while most onlookers had viewed South Africa as the side with the fewest weaknesses in the tournament, New Zealand saw it differently.

"For us it was always about getting past De Villiers," Vettori said. "Their top four ... they've got fantastic records and we thought if we could break through that...

"The whole talk was we've just got to find a way to take wickets because if we can get to the lower order we give ourselves a chance, but if we let De Villiers play then they'll take the game away from us."

That Luke Woodcock should take the final wicket seemed appropriate. The spinner was brought into the quarterfinal for his World Cup debut at the age of 29. He had played two ODIs before Friday. His dismissal of Morne Morkel was his first wicket in an ODI, and South Africa's last of the tournament.

It is on such unlikely heroes that New Zealand relies.