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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Sonia Twigg

Australia hold nerve against South Africa fightback to reach eighth Cricket World Cup final

AFP via Getty Images

Australia survived a determined South African resistance to secure a place in the Cricket World Cup final with a thrilling three-wicket win in a low-scoring but entertaining semi-final.

The two semi-finals could not have been more different. In Mumbai, India blew New Zealand away with their batting prowess, and dominated with skilful bowling, while both teams in Kolkata had to dig in and battle in the bowling-friendly conditions.

David Miller’s century dragged South Africa back from the brink of the early exit that looked all but certain as they crumbled to 24 for four against the Australian openers in the first innings. But Miller’s 101 led them to a below-par total of 212, which was close to proving enough.

South Africa may be left to consider what could have been. There were at least four crucial drops, including one off Pat Cummins with just nine runs needed for Australia, and numerous more half-chances that fell agonisingly short of fielders.

Overall, it was a resolute effort for a side that never gave up, but it was Australia who batted well enough to secure the victory and book their place in their eighth Cricket World Cup final, to take on India in Ahmedabad on 19 November.

David Miller starred with the bat for South Africa in the first innings
— (AP)

On the face of it, the low total should have been more than chaseable. Travis Head and David Warner set a platform, and as Australia raced to 50 without loss, it should have been all but certain, but then the wickets started to fall.

When Travis Head struck an explosive 62 from just 48, the feeling surrounding Eden Gardens was that Australia would cruise to a straightforward victory, but South Africa’s spinners fought back.

Before the World Cup started there had been a lot of talk about the spinning wickets, but some had surprised and proved to be batting-friendly. The surface in Kolkata turned, however, and turned a lot, especially in the second innings.

Head fell to Keshav Maharaj, Warner to Aiden Markram, and Tabraiz Shamsi claimed the crucial wickets of Glenn Maxwell and Marnus Labuschagne.

For a brief spell it looked as though the ever-reliant Steve Smith would be the calm head to see his side over the line with overs to spare, but when he top-edged Gerald Coetzee high into the air only to be caught by the wicketkeeper, the Aussies, for the first time in the match were on the back foot.

Josh Inglis instead stepped up, batting with Mitchell Starc, to edge his side closer to the total, scoring 28 before Coetzee struck again, bowling the wicketkeeper with 20 more runs required.

Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc hit the winning runs to see Australia over the line
— (Reuters)

It was down to Cummins and Mitchell Starc to get Australia over the line, and they did so with 16 balls remaining. The Australian captain held his composure, just as he did against Afghanistan when batting alongside Maxwell, to see his side through to the narrow victory.

For the Proteas, there were chances. Head was dropped on 40 and 57 before he was finally out for 62. Marnus Labuschagne, who scored 18, survived an LBW review on 4, and Steve Smith, who went on to score a useful 30, was dropped on 10.

In the first innings, Australia could not have asked for a better platform than the one provided by Josh Hazlewood and Starc in the powerplay. The ball was moving under lights and the bowling pair showed their experience and class to take four quick wickets.

Maxwell chipped in with a tight 10 overs, and Pat Cummins claimed the crucial wicket of Miller with just under three overs to spare before mopping up the tail.

It was a low-scoring but entertaining thriller, with drama up to the final overs, something that has been few and far between in the tournament. Expectations will be high for the final.

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