Australia march into World Cup final
History suggested it would be a close encounter, possibly even a classic, but in the end the second semi-final turned into a cakewalk for Australia as they cruised into their fourth successive World Cup decider. Their potent pace attack tore out South Africa's first five wickets inside ten overs and there was no way back. Shaun Tait, who earned a career-best 4 for 39, formed a lethal combination with Glenn McGrath and the Australia batsmen knocked off the target inside 32 overs.
South Africa's campaign has lurched from one extreme to the other and their latest performance did nothing to quell Australia's thoughts of a psychological hold. The approach from South Africa hinted at a side that was too pumped up and aware of the need to take the match to Australia. But there is a fine line between aggression and recklessness and the manner in which Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis were bowled immediately handed over the advantage.
Some of the batting wasn't too clever, but Australia's attack performed as an impressive unit with the accuracy of McGrath, pace of Tait, variation of Nathan Bracken and spin of Brad Hogg. McGrath became the leading wicket-taker in any World Cup with 25 victims while Tait's four moved him into joint second place, which is not bad for someone who had appeared in only four matches and claimed five wickets before the tournament.
What Smith would have given for similar firepower. While his attack is consistent, and in helpful conditions dangerous, it is virtually the same. They had to throw everything at the Australians and Charl Langeveldt's first-ball wicket of Adam Gilchrist and Andre Nel's removal of Ricky Ponting briefly raised hopes. However, Michael Clarke's fourth half-century of the tournament was almost an extended net ahead of Saturday's final.
The ease with which the Australians reached the target proved that the pitch held no alarms. But South Africa's top order was overcome by the occasion and didn't know what to do once the early wickets fell. By the end of the opening Powerplay, South Africa's dream was in tatters at 27 for 5.
With the early attempts at rattling the Australians failing, Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers had to try to weather the storm. Tait then burst in with his fifth ball by getting de Villiers to drive at a full outswinger. McGrath, though, wasn't about to be overshadowed by his young team-mate and his fifth over was a match for anything he has sent down during an illustrious World Cup career. Whether it's sheer force of personality, the pressure created, or South Africa's own nerves, McGrath was always in control. Even when he bowled a poor ball he claimed a wicket, Ashwell Prince chasing a delivery that would have been called wide.
Ponting decided not to take the final Powerplay straight away and Hogg kept Kemp in his shell. He cut loose once, hooking Shane Watson into the stands, but the partnership ended on 60 when Gibbs wafted at Tait in his comeback over. The much-vaunted lower-order strength was blown away when Andrew Hall fished outside off stump for Gilchrist to take his third catch, Shaun Pollock offered Hogg a simple return and, in his final over, Tait ended Nel's fight. Kemp fought against the tide but was stranded on 49 as South Africa's dismal innings fizzled away with more than six overs unused.
In the reply Langeveldt's first ball swung beautifully between Gilchrist's bat and pad, but Ponting responded with compact pulls and neat drives while Hayden bullied anything off line without needing to find top gear. For once, though, Ponting failed to kick on after a start when he played around a full ball from Nel, leaving just a glimmer of hope for the South Africans.
But their spirit was slowly crushed as Hayden and Clarke, whose fifty took 75 balls, worked the ball around and picked off comfortable boundaries. Hayden couldn't resist trying to sign off in style and was smartly taken by Smith in the deep, only for the South African captain to finish the match hobbling with his knee injury. In many ways it was an appropriate end given the way his team limped out of the World Cup.
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo