TELFORD VICE, Auckland
YOU know you’ve reached Middle Earth when a double-page spread of cricket coverage in the New Zealand Herald features a photograph of a Joburg boykie who is not involved in the one-day series against South Africa.
Johannesburg-born and raised Grant Elliott, who was the lord of the ring when New Zealand beat a willfully depleted South Africa to win the 2015 World Cup semi-final in Auckland, was that boykie.
There, on page B5 of the Herald’s sport section on Friday, and despite having played the last of his 83 ODIs for New Zealand more than a year ago, was Elliott’s picture.
Once more he thrust his arms his skyward to celebrate hitting Dale Steyn over his head for six to win a match in which South Africa dropped their best bowler of the tournament – Kyle Abbott – on the suits’ orders.
Why was the memory of Elliott’s commanding 84 not out dredged up here and now?
Because New Zealand and South Africa will clash at Auckland’s Eden Park again on Saturday to decide the one-day series.
“We carried the hurt of that game for a very long time,” Faf du Plessis said on Friday.
“It will be with this team for quite a while.
“I don’t think it’s humanly possible to just wipe it off.
“But it’s an opportunity to do something special again.
“It’s important for us to test ourselves.”
Passing that test would mean breaking through the glass ceiling that has stymied South Africa in New Zealand.
“I don’t think this series has seen the best cricket we’re capable of,” Du Plessis said.
“We’ve been a little bit off the ball; we haven’t been consistent in the style of cricket we want to play.
“We’ve been firing at about 65% this whole series; we haven’t played close to a complete game.”
South Africa hung tough to win the first game by four wickets with a ball to spare, but subsided from a strong position in the second to lose by six runs.
New Zealand were blown away for 112 in the third match, which South Africa won by 159 runs.
But the home side, powered by Martin Guptill’s undefeated 180, then surged to victory by seven wickets to make Saturday’s game a decider.
Despite the closeness of the series, most of the star performers have been Kiwis.
Ross Taylor has scored the only other century and Trent Boult’s six scalps make him the leading wicket-taker.
“When it comes to the ball we need to make sure we’re a lot more relentless in the areas that we bowl – we’ve been very soft in giving boundaries away,” Du Plessis said.
“We need to be smarter in creating pressure pockets where you feel the squeeze and you feel like you have to do something out of the ordinary.
“With the bat, there haven’t been enough hundreds in the top six.
“That’s something we pride ourselves on, and putting big totals on the board.”
South Africa’s best chance of doing that on Saturday could rest with getting AB de Villiers to the crease as soon as the ball has lost its initial hardness.
De Villiers is the series’ leading runscorer with 239 from the 222 balls he has faced.
He has got starts in all four innings and has been within 30 runs of a century twice.
Should he reach three figures on Saturday, all that will save the home side – probably – is Guptill.