World Cup semi-final: Oz rely on winning habit as Proteas look to shed 'chokers' tag

You start from scratch every time you play: Cummins; We will try to see it as another game: Bavuma

Australia captain Pat Cummins speaking at a press conference a day ahead of the Australia-South Africa semi-final at Eden Gardens on Thursday 16 November (photo: ICC)
Australia captain Pat Cummins speaking at a press conference a day ahead of the Australia-South Africa semi-final at Eden Gardens on Thursday 16 November (photo: ICC)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

When Australia slipped to their second defeat in a row against South Africa at the start of this campaign, many thought they looked jaded and were relying too much on the old guard from their 2015 World Cup-winning side. A month down the line, the men with the winning experience are their best bet against the Proteas in the second semi-final at Kolkata's Eden Gardens on Thursday.  

Rain gods willing, it could be a close battle between two of the most aggressive sides in the six weeks of the tournament so far. While the Proteas started in top gear by putting up that record total against Sri Lanka and followed the template of outbatting their opponents, the Aussies bounced back after the two demoralising defeats – though they never really had it easy. 

If the turnaround of the five-time champions sent a clear message of never to rule out the Aussies, South Africa have managed to stamp their authority on their campaign, except when chasing down targets. The shock loss against qualifiers Netherlands, the close shave against Pakistan or the implosion again India at the same venue — all happened while batting second and will ride on their minds.

The subject of ‘choking’ has been a sensitive one for South Africa who, ever since their comeback to the international arena, have earned the dubious distinction of being the best team not to have won the World Cup. During a recent interview with National Herald, their 1990s batting star Daryll Cullinan felt such talk was rubbish as the current generation had moved on, while captain Temba Bavuma was equally touchy on the subject ahead of the India game. 

The Proteas’ history of imploding in the 1999 and 2015 semi-finals still rankle with their former players, but Australian skipper Pat Cummins does not want to read much into such precedents. ‘’I don’t think it counts for too much. Obviously, you start from scratch every time you play. They’re a team we’ve played quite a lot and know quite well. But as you said, this week it’s probably going to be quite different to, say, the South African series that we just played against them a couple of months ago,’’ the pace bowling ace told the media at the mandatory media conference.  

‘’I think what helps us is we’ve got a lot of guys that have been in this situation before that have won one day World Cup, T20 World Cup, various other tournaments in big moments. So, I think that really helps. You can draw on that in the middle of the contest,’’ Cummins said. 

Australia’s journey to the top four, despite winning six in a row, could have been hanging fire if not for Glenn Maxwell’s superhuman effort of 201 against Afghanistan. Cummins had no qualms about admitting that an effort like Maxi’s had had gone a long way in lifting the spirits in their camp. ‘’Yeah, for sure. I think any moment like that. You know, same with Mitch Marsh’s 170-odd last game.

"I think in particular Maxwell’s knock when we were right up against it, game was over, but still one of the boys stood up to find a way to win. As a team, you grow an extra leg because you feel like you can win a match from anywhere and having someone like Maxi in your team is just a complete luxury. He’s a superstar, he’s a freak, he can win a game from anywhere,’’ Cummins said.  

The news from South Africa camp, meanwhile, is that Bavuma, recovering from a hamstring injury, may not play, with Reeza Hendricks taking his place up the order along with a prolific Quinton de Kock. While Bavuma had done his bit in rallying his troops, his form with the bat was a weak link in the otherwise powerful top order.  

‘’It would be massive (to lead the team into the semi-final). I’ve tried not to really allow myself to get into that space. You obviously want to treat it as just another game. But I guess you’re forcing me to acknowledge that occasion. It’s obviously something that I’ll be looking forward to. It’s something that I'll savour in that moment.  

‘’Obviously, it would be nice to be having another press conference with you guys on the on the 18th of November, but yeah, try not to get too much into all those emotions. Let’s see it as just another game,’’ Bavuma said. 

Catch the match 

Second semi-final 

Australia vs South Africa 

Where: Eden Gardens, Kolkata 

When: From 2.00 pm IST 

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