Off the second ball of Mitchell Starc’s fifth over, Rassie van der Dussen played the perfect cover-drive but found Marnus Labuschagne, who sprinted to his left and stopped the ball with a full-length dive. The tone of the afternoon had been set; there was just no let-up from Australia with the ball or in the field.
Cloudy skies and intermittent drizzle welcomed the two semifinalists at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Thursday. South Africa was adversely affected by the weather when it was eliminated from the ODI World Cups in 1992, 2003, and 2015. It probably thought it was safe in Kolkata, especially after choosing to bat on a pitch that looked like it would turn as the match progressed.
But the Aussie new-ball bowlers had other plans. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood bowled Test-match lines and lengths during marathon seven-over and six-over opening spells, respectively, and swung the ball both ways under lights.
For as much as the game ‘has changed’, the gospel is that there is no replacement for good technique built on a solid defence. Quinton de Kock, who has four hundreds this tournament, trudged to three from 14 balls but ran out of patience and tried hitting out, only to be caught superbly by a back-pedalling Pat Cummins.
It wasn’t as if South African batters didn’t try playing their shots, but on the odd occasion they did connect, the trajectory of the ball was thwarted by the Aussie fielders. In fact, it took the Proteas 52 balls to score their first boundary!
The threat was accentuated by Cummins’ proactive captaincy. He persisted with two slips, which, while opening up the leg-side, kept the cordon in the game given the deviation in the air and off the pitch.
It paid off when van der Dussen nicked a slightly fuller ball from Hazlewood to the second slip. Australia rarely offered a driving length, so when they did, it was tempting for the top-order batters to score off them —the perfect trap.
While four down for 44 in 14 overs does raise questions about Temba Bavuma’s choice to bat first, it goes without saying that batting first gave South Africa its best chance. Even Cummins said he would’ve batted first had he won the toss.
The first PowerPlay eventually proved crucial in the context of the game.
Travis Head and David Warner’s attacking play in the first 10 overs set the platform as Australia chased the target of 213 to win by three wickets and book its spot in the final.
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