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Australia have set up a 2023 Men's ODI World Cup title clash with India after beating South Africa by three wickets in a tense semi-final here at the Eden Gardens on Thursday.
Travis Head top-scored with 62, before Steven Smith (30), Josh Inglis (28), Mitchell Starc (16 not out) and captain Pat Cummins (14 not out) thwarted the valiant challenge from South Africa to march into their eighth Men’s ODI World Cup final, where they will take on India in a replay of the 2003 edition finale.
Keeping nearly 50,00 fans on the edge of their seats, South Africa’s spinners asked all sorts of questions but they failed to latch on their chances, along with some field placements which left a lot to be desired, leading to another semi-final heartbreak for them.
Australia’s efforts meant David Miller’s gritty century in the first innings went in vain, as Quinton de Kock’s ODI career came to an end. Chasing 213, Travis Head and David Warner were off to a flying start by hitting two boundaries each in the first four overs. The duo then took 15 runs off Marco Jansen in the fifth over, including two fours and a six, to keep Australia going.
Warner tore into Kagiso Rabada in the next over, hitting him for three sixes, included lapping him over backward square leg for six on the free-hit delivery. But Aiden Markram struck on his first ball of the night by castling Warner. Mitchell Marsh was sent back for a six-ball duck by Rabada as Rassie van der Dussen made a full dive to take a blinder of a catch.
Head had a reprieve when substitute Reeza Hendricks dropped his catch at deep point off Gerald Coetzee, who was hit for two fours by the left-handed batter. Head would get his fifty by pulling Coetzee for four and had another life when Heinrich Klassen couldn’t hang on to a tough chance at slip off Tabraiz Shamsi.
Keshav Maharaj, the top-ranked ODI bowler, struck on his very first ball by turning enough to castle Maharaj through the gate. Marnus Labuschagne survived an lbw appeal off Shamsi, but replays showed umpire’s call on impact despite ball hitting the stumps. It was Smith’s turn to get a reprieve when Quinton de Kock dropped a tough chance off Shamsi.
But Shamsi eventually got Labuschagne when the right-handed batter was trapped lbw on a reverse-sweep against a delivery which turned in sharply and review showed the ball was clipping leg stump. Shamsi came back to knock off Glenn Maxwell’s leg-stump with a quicker delivery, a dismissal which reminded many of the way Kuldeep Yadav took the batter out in Chennai.
Smith and Inglis hanged around to hit three boundaries between themselves, but the former after playing an uncharacteristic hoick on a short ball and was caught by de Kock off Coetzee. With his crouched stance and low backlift, Inglis hanged around with Starc before being castled by a straight delivery from Coetzee.
South Africa fought hard, but burnt their second review when Coetzee trapped Cummins in front of stumps, but replays showed ball pitching outside leg. There was more tension when Markram created a half-chance and dismissal chance, but Bavuma and de Kock couldn’t latch on to it. Starc whipped through mid-wicket off Jansen for four, before Cummins finished off the tense chase with a steer past backward point for a boundary.
Earlier, Miller stood tall with a fighting century, the first hundred by a South Africa batter in the Men’s ODI World Cup knockouts, to take the Proteas to 212. Electing to bat first under overcast skies, South Africa were rocked by Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc to be reduced to 24/4.
Miller then soaked in pressure and hanged around to make 101 off 116 balls, hitting eight fours and five sixes, getting a standing ovation from the crowd. Miller's century is also the first ton by someone batting at number six or lower in a Men's ODI World Cup knockout match.
He stitched a 95-run stand with Klassen and was severe on leg-spinner Adam Zampa, against whom he slammed all of his sixes in Thursday’s match. In the afternoon, Australia's new ball pairing of Starc and Josh Hazlewood did the damage by swinging the ball both ways to leave South Africa in tatters. Captain Temba Bavuma, who was not at 100% fitness, edged behind for a four-ball duck off Starc in the opening over.
De Kock ran out of patience and went for a wild slog to break free, but he was caught brilliantly by a back-pedalling Cummins off Hazlewood. Markram edged to backward point off Starc while van der Dussen’s loose drive ended in the hands of second slip, as Australia were in driver’s seat straightaway.
Cummins was superb in keeping Starc and Hazlewood relentlessly, as well as ground fielding being impressive, kept two slips consistently to keep the pressure on - meaning South Africa took 52 balls to score their first boundary. South Africa were 44/4 in 14 overs before rain interrupted play for 35 minutes.
Post resumption, it appeared that the pitch has eased out. Miller landed opening punches by clearing his leg and smacking Zampa for a couple of sixes over mid-wicket fence. It was Klaasen’s turn to cash on against Zampa, pulling him twice over mid-wicket for two sixes, before Miller smacked a full-toss over the same region for another maximum.
Klaasen lofted and flat-batted Head for back-to-back fours, before the part-time spinner bounced back by castling the right-handed batter and had Jansen lbw the very next ball to put South Africa in trouble again. Miller brought up his fifty with a cut past point off Maxwell for four.
With Coetzee giving him some support, Miller peppered mid-wicket to down the ground arc with boundaries. The 53-run stand came to an end when Coetzee gloved a pull off Maxwell behind, only for replay to show it missed the glove.
After Maharaj toe-ended to mid-off, Miller pulled thrice, last of which went for six, to get him his hundred. But right after reaching three-figure mark, Miller pulled straight to mid-wicket off Cummins, before Rabada holed out to long-on to end South Africa’s innings at 212.
Brief Scores: South Africa 212 in 49.4 overs (David Miller 101, Heinrich Klaasen 47; Mitchell Starc 3-34, Pat Cummins 3-51) lost to Australia 215/7 in 47.2 overs (Travis Head 62, Steven Smith 30; Tabraiz Shamsi 2-42, Gerald Coetzee 2-47) by three wickets
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