Australia edge low-scoring thriller to book spot in eighth ODI World Cup final

Australia 215 for 7 (Head 62, Shamsi 2-42, Coetzee 2-47) beat South Africa 212 (Miller 101, Klaasen 47, Starc 3-34, Hazlewood 2-12) by three wickets

Yawn. Australia are in another World Cup final.

Except, this wasn’t Steve Waugh’s mentality monsters or Ricky Ponting’s Invincibles. These men were fallible. They almost didn’t make it. South Africa refused to let them.

Eerily enough, the target to win was also the score both of these immensely watchable sides had put up in what was for a very long time the greatest ODI ever played. 213.

This classic, like the one in 1999, owed much to the spinners. Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi weren’t turning the ball so much as helping it develop a mind of its own. They operated in tandem for 16 overs, producing a dot once every two balls, a false shot once every four balls and almost the same number of wickets as boundaries – 3 vs 4.

The men they dismissed were Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne and extremely crucially, Glenn Maxwell for a duck.

Australia were 137 for 5.

How did this game come alive?

South Africa had recorded their lowest 10-over score in 15 years of ODI cricket. 18 for 2. They came into this semi-final scoring that many runs in a single over 14 times. The tournament’s most fearsome batting line-up was shut down like a computer that caught a virus. Only David Miller was immune. He raised 101 for 1 from his end. The others collapsed to 100 for 9 from theirs.

Things didn’t get much better in the chase either. South Africa needed 52 balls to get their first boundary. Australia needed two. Marco Jansen leaked 12 runs off one delivery. Reeza Hendricks dropped Head on 40 and watched him hit a hat-trick of fours – one of those was a drop too – to get to his half-century. More than half the score they had to defend had vanished in the 15th over.

The ghosts of knockouts past had all arrived at Eden Gardens with pop corn and everything.

Shasmi, though, told them to bleep all the way off. He was the one who made Labuschagne look very, very silly in the 16th over, an lbw shout turned down even though his leg was literally before the wicket. He was the one who knocked Maxwell’s leg stump back, a long hop that suddenly morphed into perhaps the single most important delivery of this game, sneaking below the bat that had last week conjured a double-hundred to recover a lost cause and into the leg stump.

Shamsi rounded the whole square in celebration. Temba Bavuma kept better control of his feet but his eyes were alight.

The ghosts of knockouts past had begun to flee when Josh Inglis walked in.

In conditions that denied any sense of safety to a batter, this man playing only his 17th ODI played the coolest little cameo of the entire World Cup. Inglis was in control of 89% of the balls he faced – a full 15 percentage points higher than the average. That he would play such a decisive hand became clear with the very first boundary that he struck, targeting Shamsi who was at the peak of his powers, hitting him against the turn but he did so using a fairly straighter bat and a teeny tiny backlift.

Those two choices in combination made all the difference in the world. Australia insisted on playing back to even the most invitingly full deliveries from both Shamsi and Maharaj. But where it led to the downfall of two of their very best- David Warner and Maxwell – Inglis thrived because he presented the full face at every possible opportunity and it didn’t take him all that much time to bring it down on top of the ball.

Eden Gardens was offering quick turn. Winding up as both Warner and Maxwell did – and to a certain extent Head and Labuschagne as well, even though they were playing on the front foot – was flirting with too much danger. The time they lost lifting the bat that high left them unable to protect their pads or their wickets.

Australia were 174 for 5 with Inglis at one end and Steven Smith at the other.

The ghosts of knockouts past were sharing fist bumps now.

Gerald Coetzee, though, told them to bleep all the way off. He wasn’t sure he was going to be here. In the middle of saying so to his fiancé the day before South Africa were supposed to announce their World Cup squad, he got a call from the coach saying he was in. He’d played four ODIs before this tournament, and yet the value he brings, hitting the deck in the middle overs at 150kph, has proven to be invaluable. He is South Africa’s highest wicket-taker (20) and the two he took tonight were mighty impressive.

In the middle of a seven-over spell where he was asked to target the batter’s nose, which is very hard work, especially when you also have to maintain that pace, he outsmarted Smith – bowling the wide length ball when he was expecting a bouncer and having him caught – and bulldozed through Inglis – a yorker that went onto the stumps even though the guy actually managed to hit it – and exposed Australia’s tail.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo


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