For a few brief moments, South Africa believed that it could finally get it right in a ICC World Cup knockout match. But it was not to be, as Australia withstood some painful blows to emerge on top by three wickets.
The Australians, never one to back down from a fight, will take on India in what should be a classic final on Sunday.
A tame batting effort, barring a fighting century from David Miller, put South Africa on the backfoot. Australian openers Travis Head (62, 48b, 9x4, 2x6) and David Warner (29, 18b, 1x4, 4x6) then gave the side a flying start in pursuit of 213 - threatening to relegate this semifinal into a one-sided affair.
The South Africans refused to go away quietly. The spinners, Tabraiz Shamsi in particular, applied the pressure with timely wickets. Left-arm wrist spinner Shamsi had Australia in trouble by scalping Marnus Labuschagne and Glenn Maxwell in quick succession.
At 137 for five, there was a mild sense of panic in the Australian camp. Steve Smith (30) only made it worse with a shocking slog which ballooned to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock. There was one more scare in store, when Gerald Coetzee cleaned up Josh Inglis (28, 49b, 3x4) with a yorker.
Australia needed a further 20 runs with only three wickets in hand. Mitchell Starc (16 n.o., 38b) and Pat Cummins (14 n.o., 29b) eased the nerves with a sensible approach, slowly but surely chipping away at the total.
South Africa did itself no favours by dropping no less than four catches.
South Africa stuck to its preferred option of batting first. A horror start, however, negated any perceived advantage. Skipper Temba Bavuma edged one to the ‘keeper in the first over, and was followed to the hut by a restless de Kock.
de Kock, the team’s highest run-scorer in this tournament, tried to break the shackles with a mighty heave. Cummins at mid-off kept his composure, back-peddled and took a good catch. Rassie van der Dussen and Aiden Markham cracked under the pressure applied by new ball bowlers Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
In only the first hour of the game, South Africa was under the pump at 24 for four. When it looked like South Africa would fold cheaply, Miller stood tall. The southpaw grew in confidence alongside Heinrich Klaasen (47, 48b, 4x4, 2x6). The stand was broken when Klaasen played down the wrong line to lose his stumps to offspinner Travis Head. The part-time tweaker struck gold on the very next delivery, trapping Marco Jansen on the pads.
Miller then took charge. His sixth ODI hundred rescued South Africa from being dismissed for a sub-200 total.
Miller’s dismissal in the 48th over proved crucial for Australia. If he had stuck around for the full essay, South Africa could have added another 20 runs to the tally.
The Australian pacers Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins consistently hit the right areas to snare eight wickets between them. It was more than half the job done.
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