South Africa and Australia played out their 2023 World Cup semi-final as almost a replay of the 1999 World Cup last four match except that the match didn’t end as a tie and a nervous-looking, edgy Australia progressed to the final with a three-wicket victory at the Eden Gardens here in Kolkata, on Thursday.
The game was for Australia to win, after they had restricted the Proteas to 212 (one run less than 24 years ago in England), and were cruising at 98/2 in 13 overs.
But then the spinners were introduced by Temba Bavuma. Left-arm orthodox Keshav Maharaj (1/24) and left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi (2/42) made the Australians look amateur on a sluggish pitch and bowled 15 overs in tandem conceding just 58 runs while picking three crucial wickets – of Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne and Glenn Maxwell.
The initial momentum, set by Head’s 62 off 48 balls and David Warner’s 29 off 18 balls, was lost gradually. After surviving a chance against Shamsi in the bowler’s first over, Head was bowled by Maharaj. Soon over-eagerness got into the craniums of Marnus Labuschagne and Glenn Maxwell, the hero of the match against Afghanistan, and they were dismissed by Shamsi, the former leg before the wicket and the latter bowled while trying to heave.
It was then the resolve of Smith and Inglis that kept the Aussies in the game and allowed the tail to eke out a win to enter the summit clash.
Smith isn’t the batsman who always answers to the call of modern-day white ball cricket, but the former Australia captain’s batting skills against spin count for much on a rainy day like Thursday.
Smith saw off a large part of the spin threat along with Inglis – the two adding 37 and batting out 10 overs, almost half of which were by the spinners.
But at 30, with the total on 174 and only 39 needed in more than 100 balls, Smith’s brain froze and he mistimed a shot to lob a high catch for wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock.
Inglis and Mitchell Starc held out, batting time but pace bowler Gerald Coetzee, one of the gritty type, bowled Inglis with a yorker after having pushed him to the back-foot with two bouncers, much to the delight of the crowd which was partisan towards the South Africans.
So much partisan that a fan trespassed only to meet David Miller, who had earlier scored a century (101 off 116 balls) as the lone ranger, taking South Africa to 212 runs.
After Inglis’s departure, the Australian tail-enders Starc and Pat Cummins survived nervous times, even surviving a couple of catching opportunities before taking the team through.
Starc (3/34) and Cummins (3/51) had earlier used the cloudy conditions along with Josh Hazlewood (2/12) to rock the South African batting.
This was only the third time in the ongoing World Cup that the Proteas top four failed together and like on previous two occasions, the team from Africa paid for it with a loss but which unlike the previous two times stalled their progress and threw them out in the knockout stage once again.
Australia now face India in the title clash at Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium on Sunday, the 19th of November.