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ICC World Cup: Australia battle for victory in low-scoring game to reach eighth World Cup final

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Australia made it to their eighth World Cup final with a hard-earned three-wicket win over South Africa in tricky conditions at the Eden Gardens. Pat Cummins’ side will now take on hosts India in the title clash in Ahmedabad on Sunday. For Temba Bavuma and Co. though, it was again a case of being so near yet so far in a semi-final, the fifth in five attempts that South Africa failed to get past.

David Miller’s sixth ODI hundred took Temba Bavuma’s side to 212 after opting to bat, but defending a below-par total was always going to be a challenge. Australia’s blazing start saw them gnaw away 60 runs out of the target in the first six overs, and it meant that the slowdown and collapse against spin in the middle overs counted for little. The mature hands of captain Cummins and Mitchell Starc then nudged and nurdled 22 quiet runs towards the end to get Australia over the line.

Perhaps the difference between the sides was in how they batted in the first PowerPlay. While South Africa took 53 balls to hit their first boundary, Australia took only two balls to hit their first boundary. And it came off the bat of Travis Head, the Player of the Match, who finished with 62 off 48, an innings that arguably closed the chase long before it was done. That from Head after he picked the crucial wickets of Heinrich Klaasen and Marco Jansen in the space of two balls.

The only time South Africa looked in the game was when their spinners were bowling. Aiden Markram struck with the first ball of spin that Temba Bavuma turned to, knocking over David Warner with a hint of spin. Keshav Maharaj, who was held back until the 15th over and was the last bowler into the attack, also struck with his first delivery which saw the back of hard-hitting Head.

The quiet overs that Tabraiz Shamsi and Maharaj stitched together after Head’s dismissal ultimately led to the wicket of Marnus Labuschagne, who missed an ill-advised reverse-sweep against the legspinner and was hit in front. Shamsi then went on to add the wicket of Glenn Maxwell, leaving Australia at 137/5.

It was always about bowling out Australia but the half-chances didn’t stick for South Africa. Quinton de Kock failed to hold onto a couple of tough ones behind the stumps but the dropped catch of Head by Reeza Henrdicks on 40 is what South Africa will look back on and rue. Gerald Coetzee, the bowler on that occasion, would come back and pick Steve Smith and Josh Inglis but having modest runs on the board hampered South Africa all along. But that they had as many as they did, especially from 24 for 4 was down to Miller’s extraordinary innings.

Batting under overcast skies was something even Pat Cummins admitted wanting to do, but it took only a few overs from Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood to hammer home the point that batting wasn’t going to be easy against the new ball. Bavuma lasted all of five deliveries at the crease, edging behind a delivery from Starc on nought but it was Hazlewood at the other end who proved to be more of a menace.

Hazlewood’s first spell read 6-1-12-2, the two wickets being that of de Kock (caught at mid-on after a string of dot balls) and Rassie van der Dussen (edged to second slip). Starc wasn’t too far behind at the other end, bowling seven overs on the trot and picking 2 for 18 in his first spell. Markram was the other batter Starc accounted for with an edge to backward point.

So tight were the lines and lengths from the new-ball bowlers, and so good Australia’s ground fielding, that South Africa huffed and puffed to 18/2 at the end of 10 overs. In comparison, Australia were racing at 74/2 at a similar point in time in their chase.

The 95-run association between Miller and Heinrich Klaasen helped, both of whom laying into inconsistent lengths from Adam Zampa on the other side of a 45-minute rain break. Six of the eight sixes hit in the innings were off Zampa’s bowling, with both the batters hitting two each.

Just when SA looked a bit steady after having added 44 runs between overs 21 and 30, Travis Head struck gold in his first over and returned two wickets off two balls. Bowling slow and accurate, Head beat Klaasen for length and bowled him by skidding one past his outside edge. Next ball, Marco Jansen was pinned in front by one that spun in from a long way outside off. That’s how difficult and fickle the conditions were in Kolkata.

There was another 53-run rearguard between Miller and Gerald Coetzee for the seventh wicket, with Miller doing most of the scoring in that partnership. It could have gone on for longer had Coetzee reviewed the decision for caught-behind; the short ball wasn’t top-edged as the on-field umpire thought but deflected off his arm behind to the keeper.

Miller got to his hundred off 115 balls, hitting 8 fours and 5 sixes en route to a memorable innings in a World Cup knockout but he would rue not batting until the end of 50 overs. Two balls after reaching the milestone, Miller fell while trying to pull one of the many short balls that Pat Cummins bowled from round the wicket.

Brief Scores: South Africa 213 in 49.4 overs (Miller 101; Starc 3-34, Cummins 3-51, Halewood 2-12) lost to Australia 215/7 in 47.2 overs (Head 62; Shamsi 2-42) by 3 wickets

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