By Malcolm Conn
Australia are chasing a sixth World Cup title after captain Pat Cummins hit the winning runs in a dramatic three-wicket victory over a heart-broken South Africa in Kolkata on Thursday night.
The victors meet unbeaten India in the final at Ahmedabad on Sunday after Australia scored 7/215 in reply to South Africa’s 212 on a difficult, worn and weary pitch.
Australia’s captain Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc celebrate their win in their semi-final match against South Africa.Credit: AP
Australia’s target was 213, just one short of what South Africa unsuccessfully chased during their most famous of semi-final chokes at Edgbaston during the 1999 World Cup. They are yet to qualify for a World Cup final.
Cummins has shown a knack of finishing big matches, hitting the winning runs in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston earlier this year and during his first Test in South Africa 12 years ago. He also held up an end for Glenn Maxwell to score his brilliant 201 not out against Afghanistan last week in a victory that assured Australia’s semi-final place.
This time South Africa’s struggle began despite winning the toss and batting first, when they have played their most explosive cricket in this tournament. Instead, they collapsed to 4/24 in 11.5 overs against the Test quality bowling of Mitchell Starc (3/34) and Josh Hazlewood (2/12).
By contrast Travis Head, who was at his most wild and damaging, hammering 62 in just 48 balls with nine fours and two sixes. He and David Warner (29 in 18 balls with four sixes) swished and swatted their way to 0/24 in just 3.3 overs on the way to an opening partnership of 60 in 6.1 overs.
It was an attempt to nullify an increasingly worn and uncertain pitch and ensure Australia were well ahead of the run rate should the cyclone forming in the Bay of Bengal arrived to spoil the party. A washout would have seen South Africa go through to the final after finishing second above Australia on run rate.
Such were the conditions, it was telling that South Africa bowled more overs of spin than pace.
Warner was bowled by part-time off-spinner Aiden Markram’s first ball and Head later went bowled by Keshav Maharaj’s initial delivery.
In between Mitch Marsh was brilliantly caught by a flying Rassie van der Dussen in the covers for a six-ball duck slashing at a short ball from Kagiso Rabada.
Australia’s Glenn Maxwell reacts after being bowled out.Credit: AP
Having survived a review on four, Labuschagne wasn’t so fortunate on 18 when he missed a reverse sweep against Shamsi and umpire Richard Kettleborough agreed with the appeal. This time the umpire’s call went in South Africa’s favour.
Maxwell went from hero to almost zero in little more than a week. Appearing in his first match since his heroic 201 not out against Afghanistan, Maxwell was beaten first ball by Shami, survived a review for caught behind off a reverse sweep, and perished to what may well have been the worst shot of his career.
He aimed a furious hack at a delivery from Shamsi which kept a little low and bowled him for one.
Smith (30 in 62 balls) may wonder if he should classify his shot in the same unfortunate category. In control during a largely calm partnership with Josh Inglis, Smith had an equally wild swing against a short of a length ball from Gerald Coetzee that went straight up in the air.
Gerald Coetzee of South Africa celebrates after dismissing Steven Smith.Credit: Getty Images
Smith has not spent countless hours practicing in the nets to give away his wicket like that in World Cup semi-finals.
It appeared that Inglis (28 in 49 balls) would usher Australia home with Starc’s help, but he was yorked by Coetzee and bowled.
Earlier, the same van der Dussen who so brilliantly caught Marsh batted 31 balls for six during the relentless opening spells of Starc and Hazlewood. It appeared South Africa were on course for another performance like their 83 against India, also at Kolkata, just 11 days earlier. On that occasion they were chasing and lost by 243 runs.
South Africa desperately needed a hero and David Miller proved the man. His 101 from 116 balls not only held South Africa’s innings together, he was able to put pressure back on Cummins and the Australians by strategically hitting Adam Zampa out of the attack and taking to Cummins at times.
Zampa – the leading bowler in the World Cup with 22 wickets before Mohammed Shami claimed seven in Wednesday’s semi-final against New Zealand to go to 23 – conceded 55 from his seven overs including six sixes.
It was just Miller’s second World Cup century following 138 not out against Zimbabwe in his very first World Cup game eight years ago.
Miller and Heinrich Klaasen (47 in 48 balls) began to right South Africa’s ship before two pitch-enduced moments of magic from Head’s occasional off-spin. Klaasen was bowled playing for too much spin and Marco Jansen went leg before wicket first ball failing to allow for enough.
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