Home Sport Cricket A brave fight, but Proteas have to wait another four years

A brave fight, but Proteas have to wait another four years


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 as they reached just 212 all out.

Australia’s captain Pat Cummins greets his South Africa counterpart Temba Bavuma at the end of the 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup one-day international (ODI) second semi-final at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on November 16, 2023. Picture: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR, AFP

KOLKATA: Australia are through to an eighth ICC World Cup final, while 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 semi-final at Eden Gardens on Thursday night as the Proteas went down by three wickets.

Everything in-between was high-octane drama that had close to 50,000 spectators on the 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 who pitched up at the races and were ready to charge out of 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 as they reached just 212 all out.

Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood know all about starting on the front 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 for a duck 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 were now flexing their 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 (8×4, 5×6) to haul South Africa to 212.

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

With close on a quarter of the target wiped away, Bavuma needed to pull 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 into Warner’s stumps. He had scored 29 runs.

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 Labuschagne (18) and Glenn Maxwell (1).

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 (0) brilliantly caught by a diving Rassie van der Dussen in the covers, and Keshav Maharaj clean-bowling the dangerous Head (62 off 48 balls), the South African changeroom were beginning to believe that they might just be able to pull off a heist of epic proportions.

That belief rocketed when Gerald Coetzee (2/47), who charged in all night long, bowled with all the fearlessness of youth to induce a false shot from Steve Smith (30), before skidding through the defences of Josh Inglis (28) to leave Australia on 193/7 and still 20 runs in arrears, with now only three wickets remaining.

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

Australia’s experience of winning the big moments simply came to the fore again, which now has 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.

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