Spinners, Gerald Coetzee fight back, but Proteas fall short in another World Cup semi against Australia

South Africa's captain Temba Bavuma reacts during their Cricket World Cup semi-final against Australia at Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Thursday

South Africa's captain Temba Bavuma reacts during their Cricket World Cup semi-final against Australia at Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Thursday. Photo: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP

Published Nov 16, 2023


Australia are through to an eighth ICC World Cup final. South Africa’s 31-year-wait for a place at the big dance will continue for another four years.

That’s the bare bones of a pulsating second semi-final at Eden Gardens last night. Everything in between was high-octane drama that had close to 50 000 spectators on the very edge of their seats.

It was by no means a perfect exhibition of one-day cricket, but it's often these classics that are strewn with error and exhilaration in equal measure. Pressure has a way of making even the most seasoned of players do strange things.

But ultimately it was Australia that pitched up at the races and was ready to charge out the stables from the outset. South Africa, meanwhile, were playing catch-up from the moment former Australian captain Ricky Ponting rang the bell to begin proceedings.

Under a dark and gloomy Kolkata sky with rain threatening but only eventually causing a delay of 45 minutes, the Proteas were blown away by some irresistible fast bowling. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood know all about starting on the froot foot in high-pressure matches, and this experience shone through in an electrifying new-ball spell from the Australian opening pair.

This was backed up by supremely athletic fielding that saw the likes of David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne throwing their bodies full length across the Eden Gardens turf which left South Africa searching for oxygen in the opening Powerplay.

After all the consternation in the build-up about Temba Bavuma’s fitness, the Proteas skipper lasted just three balls before edging Mitchell Starc (3/47) behind in the first over that precipitated the collapse that had South Africa reeling at 24/4.

Seldom is there a way back into the contest from that juncture, least of all in a World Cup semi-final, and especially against an Australia side that was now flexing its muscles.

It required a brilliant solo effort of resistance from David Miller. The left-hander absorbed the pressure, showing the maturity gained over a decade of playing international cricket, before launching a counter-attack that ultimately yielded 101 off 138 balls to haul South Africa to 212.

But just like their new-ball bowlers earlier in the day, the Australian opening pair Travis Head and David Warner began in rollocking fashion as their first-wicket stand yielded 60 runs in just 60.1 overs.

With close on a quarter of the target wiped away, Bavuma needed to pull out a joker out of his pack and turned to part-time off-spinner Aiden Markram.

The tactic required just one ball to reap the rewards with Markram’s golden arm bringing about the breakthrough as he rifled a straight delivery in Warner’s stumps.

After being out of the fight for such long periods, South Africa just wanted a sniff and they now had it.

Kagiso Rabada claimed in the build-up that the Proteas would “fight until the end” and nobody gets more fired up for such moments than Tabraiz Shamsi.

The wrist-spinner, fuelled by passion and energy, took the challenge to Australia by claiming the wickets of both Marnus Labuschagne and Glenn Maxwell. Shamsi was particularly excited with the latter’s dismissal, which saw him set off on a mazy celebration reminiscent of the great Imran Tahir.

With Rabada already having Mitch Marsh brilliantly caught by a diving Rassie van der Dussen in the covers, and Keshav Maharaj clean bowling the dangerous Travis Head (62), the South African changeroom were beginning to believe that they might just be able to pull off a heist of epic proportions.

That belief skyrocketed when Gerald Coetzee, who charged in for ? successive overs, bowled with all the fearlessness of youth to induce a false shot from Steve Smith before skidding through Josh Inglis’ defences to leave Australia on 193/7 and still 20 runs in arrears with now only three wickets remaining.

But ultimately, like the previous four occasions, the Proteas fell short at this critical juncture. They will lament four missed opportunities in the field, particularly wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock who has now signed off his ODI career.

Australia’s experience of winning the big moments simply came to the fore again and now have them looking forward to a possible sixth World Cup title, while South Africa’s only consolation is that they have once again played their part in yet another thrilling semi-final.


South Africa: 212 all out (Miller 101, Klaasen 47, Starc 3/47, Cummins 3/51)

Australia: 215/7 (Head 62, Smith 30, Shamsi 2/42, Coetzee 2/47)

Australia won by 3 wickets

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