As Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc engulfed each other in a hug of relief at booking Australia’s place in Sunday’s World Cup final against India, it was impossible not to feel for the latest South African side to fall at the penultimate hurdle.
This three-wicket victory for Cummins and his men was deserving of the chance to take on the tournament’s undefeated hosts at Ahmedabad’s Modi mega-bowl. Over the course of two innings on a capricious, used pitch they had made the bulk of the running, rolling their opponents for 212 before overhauling the target with 16 balls to spare.
But as the final scoreline suggests, this tells little of the drama that had unfolded during this soupy, cyclonic day-nighter in Kolkata as 48,000 Bengalis – plus a sprinkling of travelling fans – witnessed a classic knockout contest; the kind that will live long in the memory, even if Temba Bavuma and his heartbroken players may wish to banish it from theirs.
And this was heartbreak for the Proteas, striking at the outset before a masterful century from the muscular David Miller offered a sniff. Arriving with his side in tatters at 24 for four in the 12th over of the match, Miller’s 101 from 116 balls had given his bowlers something to work with and something for those looking on to get all nostalgic about. After all, 213 was the score both teams made during that famous tied semi-final at Edgbaston in 1999.
Yet despite rallying with the ball, overcoming the flashing blades of Travis Head, 62 from 48 balls, and David Warner, 29 from 18, then puncturing five further holes in the Australian hull through Tabraiz Shamsi’s wrist-spin and the pace of Gerald Coertzee, this became South Africa’s seventh exit at the semi-final stage across ODI and T20 World Cups.
Perhaps experience simply told on the day, Australia boasting five 50-over World Cup winners in their XI from the class of 2015. Among them was Starc, a relatively quiet campaign by the left-armer’s lofty standards having earlier burst into life with standout figures of three for 35 in what was an electric first innings fielding display.
And Starc was fittingly there at the end, too, he and Cummins coming together 20 runs short of the target and steering their side home with ice in their veins. For Australia it represents their eighth time in a men’s 50-over World Cup final and a chance to claim the title for the sixth time. For South Africa, simply getting there remains the problem.