Proteas panic again on the big occasion

Glenn McGrath claimed Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher off successive balls to take his tally for the tournament to a record 25.-AP

South Africa's reputation as "chokers'' returned to haunt the team as the top order capitulated against Australia's fast bowlers, Glenn McGrath and Shaun Tait. Myles Hodgson reports.

Australia ruthlessly swept aside its closest challenger on the international stage to march relentlessly towards a fourth successive World Cup final. Having swept aside all opponents in the group matches and the Super Eight, one expected Australia to finally face a competitive test on the slow pitch at the Beausejour Stadium in St. Lucia. But instead of being stretched, Australia, despite losing Adam Gilchrist in the second over of its innings, simply romped to a seven-wicket victory with 18.3 overs to spare against South Africa, the team nearest to it in the ICC world rankings.

The comprehensive triumph extends Australia's unbeaten run in the World Cup to a staggering 28 matches, stretching back to the 1999 edition. It would also have to go down as one of its easier outings during that unbeaten streak as Australia broke South Africa's challenge inside the first 10 overs of its innings when the Proteas slumped to 27 for five.

Deciding to bat first after winning the toss in an attempt to put Australia under pressure, South Africa's reputation as "chokers'' returned to haunt the team as the top order capitulated against the veteran seamer Glenn McGrath and the pace and hostility of Shaun Tait.

Ever since 1999, when South Africa froze in the tied semifinal and allowed Australia to advance to the final at Lord's, it has struggled to shrug off a belief that it panics on the big occasion. The team did little to dispel that in the semifinal from the moment left-arm seamer Nathan Bracken bowled captain Graeme Smith as he advanced down the wicket to the 15th ball of the day.

When Jacques Kallis followed in similar fashion, bowled by McGrath three overs later, the die had been cast.

Tait, bristling with aggression, induced opener A. B. De Villiers into a tentative prod behind, but South Africa's downfall was sealed in the next over when McGrath added yet another record to his illustrious career. The Australian seamer claimed two wickets off successive balls — Ashwell Prince edging behind and Mark Boucher guiding to Matthew Hayden at first slip — to take his tally for the tournament to 25 and eclipse Sri Lankan Chaminda Vaas's record World Cup haul of 23 wickets four years ago.

Shaul Tait celebrates after dismissing South Africa's A.B. De Villiers.-AP

Having watched the master at work, Tait, aged 24, delivered the best performance of his brief one-day international career to dash any hopes South Africa might have had of staging a fight back.

He was intelligently restored to the attack by captain Ricky Ponting to end a promising 60-run sixth wicket stand between Herschelle Gibbs and Justin Kemp. Tait forced Gibbs to edge the fourth delivery of his second spell to wicketkeeper Gilchrist.

All-rounder Kemp, who made an unbeaten 49, was largely responsible for preventing South Africa from recording a humiliating total. However, he could not rescue his side from registering its lowest ever World Cup score — 149.

It was not the type of innings for which Kemp is famous — big hitting and attacking strokeplay — but it was just as useful and at least enabled South Africa to get into three figures. Occasionally though, he allowed his attacking instincts to get the better of him, notably when he pulled Shane Watson over mid-wicket for six.

Kemp, dropped by Tait at long-on when on 48, was denied a half-century, as Watson wrapped up the innings by bowling last man Charl Langeveldt with 6.1 overs remaining.

Needing an early breakthrough to stand any chance of upsetting the odds, South Africa was given one by Langeveldt, who swung the ball through Gilchrist's defence with his first delivery. But by the time Nel struck seven overs later to remove Ponting, who had progressed almost without effort to 22 off 25 balls, Australia's winning momentum had been restored.

Michael Clarke successfully guided his side home with an unbeaten 60 off 86 balls.

He shared a 66-run stand with opener Matthew Hayden, who fell with Australia needing just 40 runs as Smith ran back from mid-on to take the catch off Shaun Pollock's bowling.

THE SCORES

Second semifinal: Australia v South Africa. Australia won by seven wickets.

South Africa: G. Smith b Bracken 2; A. De Villiers c Gilchrist b Tait 15; J. Kallis b McGrath 5; H. Gibbs c Gilchrist b Tait 39; A. Prince c Gilchrist b McGrath 0; M. Boucher c Hayden b McGrath 0; J. Kemp (not out) 49; A. Hall c Gilchrist b Tait 3; S. Pollock c & b Hogg 5; A. Nel c Clarke b Tait 8; C. Langeveldt b Watson 6; Extras (lb-4, w-13) 17. Total (in 43.5 overs) 149.

Fall of wkts: 1-7, 2-12, 3-26, 4-27, 5-27, 6-87, 7-93, 8-103, 9-130.

Australia bowling: Bracken 7-2-15-1; McGrath 8-1-18-3; Tait 10-0-39-4; Watson 8.5-0-49-1; Hogg 10-2-24-1.

Australia: A. Gilchrist b Langeveldt 1; M. Hayden c Smith b Pollock 41; R. Ponting b Nel 22; M. Clarke (not out) 60; A. Symonds (not out) 18; Extras (lb-5, w-3, nb-3) 11. Total (for three wkts., in 31.3 overs) 153.

Fall of wkts: 1-1, 2-44, 3-110.

South Africa bowling: Pollock 5-1-16-1; Langeveldt 6-0-34-1; Kallis 5-1-20-0; Nel 7-1-31-1; Hall 6.3-0-43-0; Kemp 2-0-4-0.

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