Classy Kohli takes India to final
India 176 for 4 (Kohli 72*, Hendricks 2-31) beat South Africa172 for 4 (du Plessis 58*, Ashwin 3-22) by six wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
It has been 14 years, five Champions Trophies, five World Cups and four World T20s since South Africa last won a knockout match at an ICC event and that has not changed. Neither has the fact that India have not lost a semi-final under MS Dhoni's captaincy. They marched into an all sub-continent final with a clinically cold-blooded chase against a South African team that put in one of their better performances in a crunch match but were still not good enough.
South Africa had never lost a T20 match after posting a 170-plus score before today and they would have thought they were halfway to breaking the hoodoo with that total. They were not overawed by India's spinners, apart from R Ashwin, their captain Faf du Plessis put runs on the board, he was supported by JP Duminy, with whom he shared the biggest partnership of the match, and they had big overs at the end.
But India matched them man for man and then outplayed them through one of them. The tournament's top run-scorer, Virat Kohli, went after the runs ruthlessly. He paced the chase perfectly, put on 56 runs with Yuvraj Singh, brought up his third half-century in four innings and then ushered India over the line with five balls to spare.
If India had reservations about how they would fare chasing a higher target than the most they have been presented with so far in this tournament -138 - the start they got would have put those to bed. Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane raced to 33 after three overs, against some questionable South African strategies.
Faf du Plessis eased India into the task by using JP Duminy and Albie Morkel as his new-ball bowlers. India's comfort against offspin and the lack of a threat, despite his ability to take pace off the ball, Morkel posed allowed India's openers to settle. Dale Steyn bowled the third over, by which time Rohit had seen enough to upper-cut a short ball over the boundary.
South Africa continued to juggle their bowling with the relatively new left-armer Beuran Hendricks used before Wayne Parnell. Hendricks got the first wicket when Rohit launched him high but the shot had no distance on it and du Plessis took the catch running in from mid-off.
India would not have minded losing a man in the Powerplay because they posted 56 in the six-over period; the most they have ever put on against South Africa when the fielding restrictions are in operation. That was an early sign of how India were going to edge ahead of South Africa in every department. South Africa had scored 44 for 2 in their Powerplay, not a statistic worth mentioning except that it was the most runs scored against India in that period in this tournament.
Kohli and Rahane played Imran Tahir, the joint highest wicket-taker at this event, with the respect someone of that stature deserves. They milked him without hitting out and went through the next three overs content without boundaries. With a rising required run-rate, Rahane was the man to take the risk. He swung at a Parnell bouncer and was caught at deep mid-wicket by AB de Villiers.
With Kohli still out there, India did not have much to worry about. His response to losing his partner was lofting Duminy over long-on to start the second half of the Indian innings. Yuvraj Singh could not get the South Africans away with similar ease but played his part in rotating strike and leaving Kohli to do the big-hitting.
Du Plessis kept Steyn back until the last six overs, when India required sixty. Yuvraj had also found his groove by then and when Steyn pitched one up, Yuvraj met it with a pick-up over mid-off. Yuvraj was victim to another de Villiers catch, this time at long-off but for as long as Kohli remained, South Africa would have been uneasy.
That would have turned into despair when Parnell bowled the 17th over. India needed a big over, a 17-run over like South Africa had in their innings, and they got it. The runs came streakily - a six off a Suresh Raina top-edge, a four off an edge that went through third man and another off an inside-edge. India only needed 23 off the last three overs, Steyn was blunted and MS Dhoni even had enough time to block the final ball of the 19th over to allow Kohli to hit the winning runs.
South Africa could only dream of such luxury. They lacked it all tournament, with tense finishes underlining their campaign, and they lacked it again in the semi. Their innings started with the wicket of Quinton de Kock at the end of the first over and Hashim Amla and du Plessis had to start by rebuilding. Amla had some fortune early on, with an edge off Mohit Sharma flying through the vacant slip cordon, and was out as he found his touch. R Ashwin got one to turn in from outside legstump to peg back off and stun Amla.
Ashwin's first over and the two lbw appeals Ravindra Jadeja had off JP Duminy's failed attempts to sweep may have hinted at a raging turner but the surface was not that hostile. Duminy and du Plessis worked Raina and Jadeja around and dealt with Amit Mishra effectively. Du Plessis was particularly forceful, chipping Mishra over cover and slapping Raina for a one-handed six before bringing up his fifty with a lob over point.
He was eventually also bowled by Ashwin, with the ball coming off his body to hit the stumps. That brought de Villiers to the crease in the 14th over, leaving him with little time to make an impact. De Villiers scored just 10 but David Miller provided the late surge. South Africa took 38 runs off the last three overs of their innings but it was not enough.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent