Cricket: Proteas banish Eden Park ghosts

By David Leggat

South Africa enjoyed their evening at Eden Park much more than their previous visit. Photo / photosport.nz
South Africa enjoyed their evening at Eden Park much more than their previous visit. Photo / photosport.nz

An infamous part of New Zealand sporting history was revisited in Auckland today.

South Africa's talismanic batsman AB de Villiers, part of the side which thumped New Zealand by 78 runs at Eden Park last night, revealed he had received a text message later that night from the former Springbok captain Wynand Claasen.

No 8 Claasen was in charge of the 1981 side which played out their tour of New Zealand to a wall of protests over South Africa's apartheid policies.

In the deciding test at Eden Park, the All Blacks won 25-22 with an Allan Hewson penalty several minutes into injury time.

Aware that the last time New Zealand played South Africa at Eden Park, it was the World Cup semifinal in March 2015 and New Zealand won on the penultimate ball to send South Africa into despair.

"He told me well done," ODI captain de Villiers said of the Claasen text. "It's just a T20 but it takes a bit to go and beat the Kiwis at Eden Park."

De Villiers, whose father numbers Claasen among his best friends, appreciated the thought.

"There's always great significance in winning a game away from home and Eden Park is obviously a great stadium to win a game for your country."

De Villiers quipped that since he had arrived in New Zealand the highlights of that cup semifinal had been on television "a thousand times".

The hurt from that game will "never disappear. There's nothing we can do about that". But de Villiers is confident his players have moved on from that night.

"It's all good memories, after we got through the pain. We had a great camp (before coming to New Zealand) where we got everything out on the table, dealt with the emotions and the heartache. We're past that now. When I watched (the highlights) I only saw good things."

Late last night, long after the crowds had disappeared from Eden Park and only cleaning staff and journalists remained, the South African squad gathered in a huddle in the middle of the ground. They performed their team song, a tradition to mark the winning of a series - although de Villiers admitted it felt "a bit weird" celebrating a one-off T20 victory.

There followed several seconds of bellowed roars from the players, the thinking being that was their way of banishing the ghost of Eden Park, although de Villiers didn't elaborate.

Claasen was regarded as an enlightened, forward-thinking leader of the touring squad. He played the second and third tests of that series, overseeing a win at Athletic Park before the emotion-charged decider, with flour bombs dropped from a low-circling plane.

The South African players had to sleep under the main stand the night before the match, smuggled in to avoid the thousands of protesters.

- NZ Herald

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