IT WOULD have been useless to try to stop the tears, and none among them tried.
As Grant Elliott’s triumphant six described a cruel curve arching into the stands far beyond long-on at Eden Park yesterday, South Africa’s players sank where they stood and the emotion tumbled out, wet and hot, into Auckland’s chilly night air.
The bowler, Dale Steyn, was poleaxed on the pitch. At mid-on, AB de Villiers looked as if he was waiting to be shot. In the covers, Faf du Plessis’s eyes glowed an indelible red. At fine leg, Morne Morkel was a crumple of humanity who had to be talked off the turf by Wayne Parnell.
By the time De Villiers stepped onto the gallows to face the press, he had composed himself enough to look as if something had gone terribly wrong in his life.
Long minutes earlier, he had looked as if life itself was over.
Was that the worst he had yet felt on a cricket ground? “Yes.” Now what? “I have absolutely no idea what to do from here on in. I don’t even know when we’re going home. It’s going to take some time.
“As a captain, I’ll be there for the guys as much as I can.
“There is nothing you can do about it now.” Was there any explaining it? “I felt that we left it out on the field and that’s all I can ask of the guys. We had our chances, especially in the second half of the game, and we didn’t take them.
“It’s obviously painful. Lots of people back home were supporting us. It hurts to think of all of them. We so badly wanted to take that trophy back home.”
That done, De Villiers sank back in his chair, beaten, bowed and bleak. His eyes were closed. Presently, he leaned forward, tired head cradled in one tired hand, and either coughed, retched or sobbed; it was difficult to tell which. Then it was coach Russell Domingo’s turn: “The boys are broken. It’s been a really tough, tough defeat for us.”
What would it take for SA to win a World Cup?
“You need things to go for you. You need to take your opportunities. There is such a small margin between winning and losing.
“This is the first semifinal New Zealand have won, but people don’t question that. It’s just the nature of being the SA cricket team, I suppose.”
Only after all that was Elliott, once of Jozi now a Kiwi, ushered into the spotlight.
Having played for SA at under-19 level and in 18 first-class matches in the country before his move to New Zealand in 2001, did he know what separated SA’s cricket culture from New Zealand’s?
“It’s not just about winning,” Elliott said. “We’ve got a great team and everyone plays for each other and plays for the four million people in New Zealand, and that’s the big difference.”
By then, De Villiers and his team were staring into the night, and into the unknown.