World Cup semis: Australia ride knockout nerves, luck to set up final date with India
Five World Cup semi-finals later, South Africa’s agonising wait to end the jinx continues
Can South Africa ever win a World Cup? The question will come back to haunt their fans again as Australia nearly choked this time before denying the Proteas by three wickets in a low-scoring, edge-of-the-seat thriller — reviving memories of their semi-final heartbreaks against the same rivals in 1999 and 2007.
It will be the final match-up the world wanted — India versus Australia — as all roads lead to the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Sunday. While Rohit Sharma’s men looked unstoppable again in a high-scoring semi-final on Wednesday, there is a perception that if any team can stop their juggernaut, it’s got to be Australia with their enviable record in the knockout stages.
After a humdinger of a semi-final in Mumbai, the second one promised much for the 45,000-odd fans who turned up at Eden Gardens on a pleasant day for a non-India match. When South Africa rode a fighting 101 by David Miller and an invaluable 95-run partnership with Heinrich Klaasen (47) to cobble together a below-par 212, it seemed all it would take the five-time champions and eight-time finalists was to be patient while chasing on a tricky surface.
Travis Head, who has proved Australia’s lucky charm ever since he came back from injury and joined the squad as an opener, started on a gung-ho note. The intent was clear and despite them losing David Warner and an in-form Mitchell Marsh early, the Aussies simply carried on.
Intriguingly enough, South Africa skipper Temba Bavuma waited until the 12th over to bring on his main spinner Keshav Maharaj despite Aiden Markram, their part-time spinner, striking inside the powerplay. Once Maharaj and chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi took control of the match in the middle overs, the Australian chase was in danger of getting derailed.
It was also simply irresponsible on the part of Glenn Maxwell, fresh from his epochal innings of 201 not out, to try a reverse sweep against Shamsi who was turning the ball square. Steve Smith, who has had quite a tournament so far, proved his worth by scraping a 30 off 62 balls before he had a sudden rush of blood.
Only on Wednesday, former South Africa captain AB de Villiers sounded an optimistic note in his media column, saying this could be the year that South Africa made their first final in five attempts (1992, 1999, 2007 and 2015). There was enough reason for such a belief, as this bunch looked like covering all the bases with a menacing top six batting line-up, a competent pace attack and, for a change, the luxury of two quality spinners.
However, a disastrous start after electing to bat first under overcast conditions saw South Africa being reduced to 24 for four in the 12th over. It was left to Miller who, after years of a somewhat underwhelming presence in international cricket, played the unusual role of a troubleshooter to graft his first international century after five years and five days.
Both Miller and Klaasen chose Adam Zampa, the second highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 22 wickets, to clobber two sixes each as the leg spinner eventually went wicketless.
Known more as a journeyman plying his trade in franchise leagues throughout the world, Miller weathered the early storm from the Australian pace trio and adapted to the needs of the situation to take his innings forward. There was, however, no support for him after Klaasen’s departure to take the total in the region of 250-260.
Over to Ahmedabad then…