Kolkata: Australia beat South Africa by three wickets in the second semifinal of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup here at the Eden Gardens on Thursday to set up a title clash with hosts India.
Australia’s victory in the low-scoring thriller came after a dominant display when their new-ball bowlers ripped through South Africa’s top order after the Proteas opted to bat first in overcast conditions.
But a brilliant David Miller century helped South Africa stretch 212 all out, leaving the bowlers something to work with in the second innings.
Requiring 213 to win – the same total as in the infamous 1999 semi-final between these two nations – Australia set about their chase in brisk fashion.
Travis Head and David Warner went firmly on the attack in the opening powerplay, only for South Africa’s spinners to turn the momentum back in their team’s favour as wickets continued to fall at crucial moments.
A topsy-turvy encounter came to a tense conclusion with South Africa throwing everything at Australia’s tail in search of the final wickets they needed to pull off a stunning comeback.
The game looked to be drifting towards an inevitable conclusion until the spinners heaped on the pressure in the middle overs.
The game again turned back in Australia’s favour as a drifting spell of play saw Steve Smith and Josh Inglis accumulate patiently to pull their side closer to the target.
But Smith’s patience ran out in dramatic fashion when he played a delivery from Gerald Coetzee and skied a catch that was well held by the keeper, departing for 30 from 62 balls.
Another steady partnership edged Australia closer to their target, but South Africa remained in with a chance when Coetzee cleaned up Josh Inglis for 28, leaving Australia’s bowlers with the task of finishing the job with the bat.
Keshav Maharaj provided the decisive breakthrough right at the start of his spell, cleaning up Head for a 48-ball 62.
And Tabraiz Shamsi got into the action to give South Africa real hope, removing Marnus Labuschagne (18) and Glenn Maxwell (1).
Maharaj with 1/24 from ten overs, Tabraiz Shamsi (2/42) and Gerald Coetzee (2/47) were the pick of the Proteas bowlers.
But Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins finished the job with the bat in hand, wrapping up victory with three wickets and 16 balls to spare.
Earlier, South Africa’s top order were put under enormous pressure in helpful bowling conditions after the Proteas opted to bat first in the semi-final.
Runs were extraordinarily hard to come by as South Africa slipped to 24/4 in the 12th over, with Temba Bavuma (0), Quinton de Kock (3), Aiden Markram (10) and Rassie van der Dussen (6) all falling cheaply as Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood turned the screw.
A rain delay offered South Africa a chance to regroup, and they steadily rebuilt through the middle overs, with Heinrich Klaasen (47) and Miller ensuring that the semi-final at least stayed alive.
Miller departed for 101 from 116 balls as the innings headed towards its close, with his brave effort giving South Africa’s bowlers a total to defend, with the Proteas finishing 212 all out with two balls of the allocated 50 overs remaining.
Starc finished with 3/34 from ten, Cummins with 3/51 from 9.4 overs. But the headline-grabbers with the ball for Australia were Hazlewood, who took a remarkable 2/12 from eight overs, and Travis Head, who bagged 2/21 from five, including the crucial wicket of Klaasen.
The final will be played on Sunday at Ahmedabad. UNI