Cricket World Cup: 'The Most Inspired Selection in NZ Cricket History'
By  Dylan Cleaver

 

A man who can grow a full beard in a matter of minutes might be used to close shaves, but it's unlikely the wider public has full appreciation of just how close Grant Elliott was to missing out on his World Cup dream.

It's fair to say that if the South African-born national hero wasn't the 15th man picked in Mike Hesson's World Cup squad, he was the 14-and-a-halfth.

For months it seemed likely that talented young all-rounder Jimmy Neesham was going to be part of the squad and Elliott wasn't considered good enough to squeeze in as a specialist batsman. When he missed selection in the three-match ODI series against South Africa in October despite the absence of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor - Neesham, Dean Brownlie and World Cup back-up batsman Tom Latham were preferred - the door was effectively closed on Elliott.

He did what good players, veteran players, do. He went back to domestic cricket, in this case the Georgie Pie Super Smash, and loudly reinvented his game. Suddenly Elliott started accessing his boundary areas earlier in his innings. A heady, diligent batsman was, at the relatively advanced age of 35, becoming explosive.

Domestic cricket in this country can, unfortunately, be a wasteland of broken dreams, but in Elliott's case, the selectors took notice. When it came time to make the toughest cull, they opted for Elliott's experience, his reputation as a great team man and, most importantly, his greater shot-making confidence over a younger and quite probably more talented compatriot.

Despite many skeptics, including this author, it will now be remembered as one of the most inspired selections in New Zealand cricket history.

But if you expect Elliott to give a two-fingered salute to his critics, you'll be looking for a long time. If anybody embodies that hoary old chestnut, there is no 'I' in team, it is him.

"We've got a team that plays for each other and the four million people in New Zealand. That's the big picture," he said. "When you play for the team it takes away that insular feeling - we have none of that in our team."

What they do have is grit by the tip-truck load, and a refusal to quit. They might occasionally get outplayed, but they don't get outfought. That has not always been the case with our cricketers, but it always has with Elliott. He can say without fear of contradiction that he has maximized his talent.

"When I emigrated to New Zealand I wanted to become a New Zealander. I've made New Zealand my home. It's great to repay the hospitality that everyone has shown. I love the country. It's sad that I left South Africa when I did... but New Zealand is my home and I'm pretty stoked to get [us] to the final."

He did it under the most enormous pressure, something he admitted to in the wake of his heroics. To recap: needing a boundary off the last two balls of the game to send New Zealand through, he shoveled a good length ball from Dale Steyn, arguably the best fast bowler on the planet, into the heaving, anxious crowd at deep midwicket.

He confessed that he was feeling the pressure, that he worried what it would feel like to be 78 not out and having failed, rather than being 84 not out and a legend. It is why he showed true class when the rest of the stadium just wanted to party. There's a beautiful image that is circulating the world, an indelible image, of Elliott reaching down and picking up a crestfallen Steyn.

It might even be remembered long after the hoick is forgotten, as new heroes emerge at the 2019 CWC and beyond.

"You have to feel compassion. Humble in victory, humble in defeat. It's just part of, I guess, who I am. I felt quite sorry for him; I felt quite sorry for a lot of the South African guys," he said. "It could have been us. It could have been me sitting there. If I had missed the last two balls I would have been pretty gutted as well, along with 40,000 people in the stadium I'm sure."

Elliott's place in our sporting story is now secure. The boy who was suspended from school and cricket after his mum let him stay home to watch South Africa play Australia in the 1992 World Cup has fulfilled his dream of being part of the tournament.

"It [1992] left a massive impression on me. That tournament, the colored clothing and everything... it was what I wanted to do. It's funny how life works. I'm at Eden Park today hitting the winning runs to take New Zealand [to the final]. It's been quite an awesome journey."

A journey that came frighteningly close to ending before it started.

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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