Smith ton sets up trans-Tasman finale
Australia 328 for 7 (Smith 105, Finch 81, Yadav 4-72) beat India 233 (Dhoni 65, Faulkner 3-59) by 95 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Four months ago, India arrived in Australia as holders of both the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and the World Cup. Then they ran into Steven Smith, who ensured they will fly home with neither. Smith tormented India with a century in every Test of the summer, and like the ghost of series past, returned to haunt them with another hundred in this World Cup semi-final. The summer of Steve just keeps rolling on.
It will end at the MCG on Sunday in either World Cup triumph over New Zealand, or heartbreak at losing the trophy to the co-hosts of this six-week event. Of course Smith was not alone in delivering Australia their seventh win from seven World Cup semi-finals - Aaron Finch gave batting support, Mitchell Johnson provided invaluable late runs and key wickets - but Smith was at the heart of it.
His 105 was a class above most of the batting in this game, and set Australia on the path to a match-winning 328 for 7. In the field, he claimed wickets with his eyes and ears. Smith appeared to instigate a five-star review when there was virtually no appeal for a caught-behind off Mitchell Starc's bowling; snicko found the ball had kissed Ajinkya Rahane's edge on the way to Brad Haddin.
Rahane was on 44 at the time and had put together a 70-run stand with MS Dhoni that had Australia a fraction nervous. Dhoni's calmness at the crease will always worry his opponents, but losing Rahane and then Ravindra Jadeja - Smith's throw from backward point found Jadeja short of his crease - placed enormous pressure on Dhoni.
The required run-rate began to look like an accelerated adolescence, every over representing a year: it's 11, now it's 12, now it's 13, now it's 14, now it's 15. Dhoni thumped a couple of consecutive sixes off Shane Watson but he could do only so much, and fell for a run-a-ball 65 when he was the victim of a direct hit from Glenn Maxwell.
The end came quickly. James Faulkner bowled R Ashwin and Mohit Sharma from consecutive balls, and Starc rattled Umesh Yadav's stumps in the next over to secure the 95-run win and a place in the final. The result was a relief for Australia.
India needed the highest successful chase of this tournament, but possess some of the finest chasers in world cricket. And a sea of blue around the SCG created the impression this was a home match for India. A 76-run opening stand between Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma betrayed no nerves from them. But Dhawan picked out deep extra cover off Josh Hazlewood for 45 and then came a key moment: Virat Kohli top-edged a hook off Johnson to be caught by Haddin for 1.
The loss of Rohit, bowled by Johnson for 34, and then Suresh Raina, who edged behind off Faulkner for 7, boosted Australia, but Dhoni's presence was always a threat. He just had nobody to go with him for the big partnership required, the kind Australia had. The 182 that Smith and Finch added for the second wicket in Australia's innings was the key stand of the game.
No other Australia partnership reached fifty, or lasted five overs. India's bowlers fought well in the later stages to keep Australia to 328 for 7, a challenging target but a gettable one, considering high 300s were plausible while Smith and Finch were there with 197 for 1 after 34 overs.
Shami found early swing and Yadav neared 150kph, but only one wicket fell early. Then came that partnership in which Smith batted like a man who had never been out, Finch like a man who had never been in. Australia's top order has looked much sturdier since Smith moved up to No.3 and so it did again. In only one match in any format against India this summer has Smith failed to score a hundred.
His footwork was the equal of any great boxer; he used his crease to manufacture the length he required, including going back off Jadeja to pull one of his two sixes. Smith's precise pulling was a feature of his innings. Of his 105 runs, 77 came through the leg side as he found the gaps without much trouble. His fifth hundred of the summer against India came from 89 balls with a pull for four off Shami.
Smith was eventually out hooking to deep square leg off Yadav for 105 from 93 balls; India's bouncer finally worked when they got it head high. Between them, Smith and Finch had generally been able to keep the runs ticking over even in periods where the boundaries did not flow so freely, although the spin of Jadeja and Ashwin proved harder to get away.
Finch's 81 was valuable to Australia but it was far from his best-looking innings. His tournament began with a hundred against England but since then he has been scratchy, and was again here. Whereas Smith finessed, Finch forced.
Australia hoped Finch would launch from the platform over which he had laboured; instead he was another victim of Yadav's quick short ball when he pulled to midwicket. The dismissal of Maxwell was key in halting Australia's push, and was a fitting reward for Ashwin, whose canniness kept Australia to 42 runs off his 10 overs. Maxwell's departure came in a period of chaos in which India claimed 4 for 51 from 49 legal deliveries.
Yadav and Mohit especially led India's fightback with regular wickets: Clarke made 10, Faulkner 21 and Watson 28, but they all fell to the fast men. Johnson crunched a late 27 not out off 9 balls to add to the daunting nature of the chase.
And as the cricket cliché goes, in big games it was all about runs on the board.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale