In stark contrast with Wednesday’s run-fest in Mumbai, where the hosts toppled New Zealand in the first semi-final, the second was a low-scoring affair full of twists and turns as Australia made hard work of their pursuit of 213, eventually steered home by Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc with 16 balls to spare.
South Africa’s hopes of reaching their first final looked in tatters when they were reduced to 24 for four at the start of a superb bowling performance from Australia’s renowned pace trio, Starc and Cummins finishing with three wickets apiece, while Josh Hazlewood claimed stingy figures of two-for-12 from his eight overs. David Miller’s century, however, dragged the Proteas to a competitive total to set up a nervy chase.
Since starting the tournament with successive defeats, including to South Africa last month, Australia have won eight games on the bounce and will head to Ahmedabad in pursuit of their sixth world title in the format, though India remain strong favourites having won all ten of their matches so far.
South Africa had produced some of the group stage’s most explosive batting displays but, having won the toss, were guilty of retreating into their collective shell on the biggest stage in the face of brilliant new-ball spells from Starc and Hazlewood.
The Proteas’ first boundary did not arrive until midway through the ninth over, by which time both openers had fallen, Temba Bavuma edging behind for a four-ball duck, before Quinton de Kock skied Hazlewood to a back-pedalling Pat Cummins, the Aussie skipper doing brilliantly to hold an awkward catch.
Bavuma had admitted at the toss that he was “not 100 per cent fit” following a hamstring injury but kept his place ahead of Reeza Hendricks, while Australia brought Starc back into their XI after he had been rested for the final group game against Bangladesh.
The left-armer was back in potent form from the outset and claimed his second wicket soon after the end of the opening powerplay as a sharp catch from David Warner did for Aiden Markram, before Rassie van der Dussen edged Hazlewood to slip in the very next over.
Rain turned the first drinks break into a 40-minute interval, after which Heinrich Klaasen and Miller delivered some much-needed counter-thrust in a stand of 95, but the introduction of Travis Head brought a vital breakthrough, the part-time spinner striking twice in as many balls to first bowl the dangerous Klaasen on 47 and then trap Marco Jansen in front first ball.
Gerald Coetzee became the first of three late wickets for Cummins, deciding not to review when given caught-behind despite replays suggesting the ball had come off his shoulder, leaving Miller to attack, his innings of 101 from 116 balls containing eight fours and five sixes, more boundaries than the rest of the lineup combined.
Chasing what looked a modest 213 - the same score made by both sides in their famous tie in the 1999 semi-final at Edgbaston - Australia set out to make swift inroads in the hope of denying South Africa a foothold.
Warner set the tone with 29 from 18 balls before being bowled by Markram and while Mitch Marsh was out without scoring an over later, Head continued the charge, the opener’s 62 from 48 ensuring the target had effectively been halved by the end of the 14th over.
Having taken two wickets in his own first over during South Africa’s innings, however, Head was undone by Keshav Maharaj’s very first ball and with the track offering increasing turn, the spinners were able to apply the squeeze.
Marnus Labuschagne had been fortunate to survive one lbw review on the tightest of umpire’s calls but was soon trapped trying to reverse-sweep Tabraiz Shamsi, who then snuck through the defences of Glenn Maxwell to leave Australia five-down and still 76 from victory in tricky conditions.
A steadying partnership of 37 between Steve Smith and Josh Inglis appeared on the brink of finally cracking South Africa’s resolve, but Coetzee removed both to keep his side in the fight and take his tally for the tournament to 20 wickets.
With the target into single figures, Markram conjured one glaring chance but a faint edge off Cummins was put down by De Kock behind the stumps and made full use of the reprieve to strike the winning runs.