Stephen Donald, the New Zealand fly-half, was famously called into New Zealand’s 2011 rugby World Cup squad from a fishing holiday and went on to kick the winning points at Eden Park. Grant Elliott’s inclusion for the 2015 cricket equivalent was not quite so last minute, but certainly was not something that appeared likely when New Zealand started planning building for the tournament.
When he played against Sri Lanka during January it was his first one-day international for more than a year. He had not been part of the series against Pakistan before Christmas which was expected to provide the World Cup squad, especially as New Zealand had rested key players and still came back to win 3-2.
Then, however, Elliott was named in the World Cup 15, at the expense of the raw but talented Jimmy Neesham. That, along with the original omission of Matt Henry, who was latterly called up after injury to Adam Milne, were the borderline calls in the squad and the ones that Mike Hesson and the selectors would be judged on. Right now, the Elliott decision is looking a master stroke.
A few weeks ago, when Australia were the visitors for the group match, Kane Williamson finished a nail-biting contest with a straight six. Sorry, Kane, you’ll have to move over now. Elliott’s front-foot hoick over wide mid-on against Dale Steyn, the finest fast bowler in the world, has already supplanted it as the most famous shot on this storied ground.
“I was looking to hit that ball for six or four. I was just going to line it up and wherever it was, it was going over the boundary, hopefully,” Elliott said. “I didn’t want to be there 70-odd and not winning this game. That was not a position I wanted to be in.”
“I really did feel the pressure,” he admitted candidly. “I had two balls, Dan [Vettori] said we weren’t going to run to the keeper again, so it was up to me. I had two balls to try and take us. I knew that four runs would do it because a tie was as good as a win, so that was always in the back of my mind. But I think we probably left it a little bit late to be honest, and it was stressful towards the end there.
“I’m quite a level sort of person, and I like to stay out of the media to be honest. I guess it’ll sink in. I think after the World Cup I’ll maybe look back and sort of reassess and savour those moments.”
Hitting the winnings has, however, thrown up one problem for him. “My sister has got a wedding on Friday. Unfortunately I’ll miss her wedding. If you can put that in the press and say I’m sorry, I saw her earlier, she was pretty happy for me, but I’m going to have to give her a special gift, I think.”
Elliott moved to New Zealand in 2001 after three seasons in South Africa, but it was not until 2008 that his international chance came. Firstly it was in Tests, when he made his debut against England in Napier – the same match as Tim Southee – then the one-day bow came later in 2008.
“When I emigrated to New Zealand I wanted to become as New Zealander, and I’ve made New Zealand my team. It’s great to repay the hospitality that everyone has shown when I arrived in New Zealand,” he said. “I love the country. It’s sad that I left South Africa when I did, and I had a lot of history there, went to school there, obviously played a little bit of cricket there and have got some good friends. But New Zealand is my home, and I’m pretty stoked to have got New Zealand to the final with that shot at the end.”
His feistiness and love of the battle was evident in his first one-day series when he made 56 on a lively pitch in Bristol having come in at 42 for 4. He later chipped out 2 for 9 in the game New Zealand won by 22 runs. Three days later, at The Oval, he was involved in a controversial run out having collided with Ryan Sidebottom and New Zealand were angered when Paul Collingwood did not call Elliott back.
This World Cup semi-final is not the first time he has been a match-winner, either. New Zealand do not know their opponents for the March 29 final as yet, but either way Elliott can think back to 2009 when he guided New Zealand over the line with an unbeaten 61 in a Chappell-Hadlee contest at the MCG. Later that year, as Elliott enjoyed a lengthy run in the one-day side, he scored an unbeaten 75 to take the team home in the Champions Trophy semi-final against Pakistan in Johannesburg.
Since that match, however, he only played a further 24 ODIs in more than four years until his recall against Sri Lanka earlier this year. Even after scoring an unbeaten 104 in that series and another undefeated 64 against Pakistan, he was often the man with the spotlight thrown on him especially after a duck against Australia when he was a long way from a Mitchell Starc inswinger.
Given the way New Zealand were winning opportunities for substantial innings were thin on the ground, but he started to chip and insisted he was always ready. And when his country came calling, he proved he really was.
“I always wanted to play in a World Cup since the ’92 tournament,” Elliott said. “My mom let me stay at home to watch the first game and I got suspended from cricketing at school for a little while because I did that. But that left a massive impression on me. It’s funny how life works. It’s amazing to be at Eden Park and to hit the winning runs to take New Zealand into the final. It’s been an awesome journey.”
And a journey that nearly didn’t happen.