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2nd Semi-Final (D/N), Eden Gardens, November 16, 2023, ICC Cricket World Cup
(47.2/50 ov, T:213) 215/7

Australia won by 3 wickets (with 16 balls remaining)

Player Of The Match
62 (48) & 2/21
Cricinfo's MVP
192.13 ptsImpact List

Australia edge low-scoring thriller to book spot in eighth ODI World Cup final

David Miller scored a classic century amid a South Africa collapse, but the team's total of 212 was ultimately too little to defend with

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
Australia 215 for 7 (Head 62, Shamsi 2-42, Coetzee 2-47) beat South Africa 212 (Miller 101, Klaasen 47, Starc 3-34, Hazlewood 2-12) by three wickets
Yawn. Australia are in another World Cup final.
Except, this wasn't Steve Waugh's mentality monsters or Ricky Ponting's Invincibles. These men were fallible. They almost didn't make it. South Africa refused to let them.
Eerily enough, the target to win was also the score both of these immensely watchable sides had put up in what was for a very long time the greatest ODI ever played. 213.
This classic, like the one in 1999, owed much to the spinners. Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi weren't turning the ball so much as helping it develop a mind of its own. They operated in tandem for 16 overs, producing a dot once every two balls, a false shot once every four balls and almost the same number of wickets as boundaries - 3 vs 4.
The men they dismissed were Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne and extremely crucially, Glenn Maxwell for just 1.
Australia were 137 for 5.
How did this game come alive?
South Africa had recorded their lowest 10-over score in 15 years of ODI cricket. 18 for 2. They came into this semi-final scoring that many runs in a single over 14 times. The tournament's most fearsome batting line-up was shut down like a computer that caught a virus. Only David Miller was immune. He raised 101 for 1 from his end. The others collapsed to 100 for 9 from theirs.
Things didn't get much better in the chase either. South Africa needed 52 balls to get their first boundary. Australia needed two. Marco Jansen leaked 12 runs off one delivery. Reeza Hendricks dropped Head on 40 and watched him hit a hat-trick of fours - one of those was a drop too - to get to his half-century. More than half the score they had to defend had vanished in the 15th over.
The ghosts of knockouts past had all arrived at Eden Gardens with pop corn and everything.
Shasmi, though, told them to bleep all the way off. He was the one who made Labuschagne look very, very silly in the 16th over, an lbw shout turned down even though his leg was literally before the wicket. He was the one who knocked Maxwell's leg stump back, a long hop that suddenly morphed into one of the most important deliveries of this game, sneaking below the bat that had last week conjured a double-hundred to recover a lost cause.
Shamsi rounded the whole square in celebration. Temba Bavuma kept better control of his feet but his eyes were alight.
The ghosts of knockouts past had begun to flee when Josh Inglis walked in.
In conditions that denied any sense of safety to a batter, this man playing only his 17th ODI played the coolest little cameo of the entire World Cup. Inglis was in control of 89% of the balls he faced - a full 15 percentage points higher than the average. That he would play such a decisive hand became clear with the very first boundary that he struck, targeting Shamsi who was at the peak of his powers, hitting him against the turn but he did so using a fairly straight bat and a teeny tiny backlift.
Those two choices in combination made all the difference. Australia insisted on playing back to even the most invitingly full deliveries from both Shamsi and Maharaj. But where it led to the downfall of two of their very best - David Warner and Maxwell - Inglis thrived because he presented the full face at every possible opportunity and it didn't take him all that much time to bring it down on top of the ball.
Eden Gardens was offering quick turn. Winding up as both Warner and Maxwell did - and to a certain extent Head and Labuschagne as well, even if they were playing on the front foot - was flirting with too much danger. The time they lost lifting the bat that high left them unable to protect their pads or their wickets.
Australia were 174 for 5 with Inglis at one end and Steven Smith at the other.
The ghosts of knockouts past were sharing fist bumps now.
Gerald Coetzee, though, told them to bleep all the way off. He wasn't sure he was going to be here. In the middle of saying so to his fiancé the day before South Africa were supposed to announce their World Cup squad, he got a call from the coach saying he was in. He'd played four ODIs before this tournament, and yet the value he brings, hitting the deck in the middle overs at 150kph, has proven to be invaluable. He is South Africa's highest wicket-taker (20) and the two he took tonight were mighty impressive.
In the middle of an eight-over spell where he was asked to target the batter's nose, which is very hard work, especially when you also have to maintain that pace, he outsmarted Smith - bowling the wide length ball when he was expecting a bouncer and having him caught - and bulldozed through Inglis - a yorker that went onto the stumps even though the guy actually managed to hit it - and exposed Australia's tail.
South Africa still had 19 runs to play with. They created more chances. Mitchell Starc nicked one but there was no slip in. Pat Cummins scooped one towards short midwicket but the ball fell short of a diving Miller. De Kock, who now that the match is over is no longer an active ODI cricketer, dropped a seriously tough catch behind the wicket with the target nine runs away. In ordinary circumstances, Kagiso Rabada would've been steaming in at this point but he was nursing a bruised heel.
So the ghosts won. And Australia with them. They go through to their eighth men's ODI World Cup final - there have only been 12 of those so far - to face India in Ahmedabad on Sunday.
For about an hour and 12 minutes right at the start of this semi-final, under ash grey skies, they were playing the kind of cricket that nobody could match. Starc and Josh Hazlewood bowled 13 overs together to start the game and allowed only 11 scoring shots. Overcast conditions offered them swing through the air and seam off the pitch. Their team-mates - Warner in particular - offered even more, making a handful of saves in the 30-yard circle that otherwise could easily have gone for four.
"You can see by the way they're moving," Ponting said on commentary. "It's almost like a yellow wave."
Australia wanted the batters to hit over the top. De Kock resisted for 13 deliveries but then he lost trust in himself and took the bait. The ball went miles in the air. Cummins ran a long way back from mid-on. He never lost track of it and when he finally had it in his hands he just lay there on the turf arms spread wide in triumph.
This was high-class planning and execution. Hazlewood, especially. The fates had conspired to hand him a brand new ball in dank conditions that required the floodlights to come on. A one-day game had turned into a day-night Test and he's totally metal in that format. Seeing that he was getting just enough seam movement and that it was going both ways, he knew all he had to do from there was be accurate. Forty of Hazlewood's 48 deliveries were on a length or just back of it. Thirty-eight of those 40 deliveries were on the stumps or in the channel. Essentially, he forced South Africa to play almost every ball but he gave them nothing to drive, pull or cut. His figures read 8-3-12-2.
Starc at the other end did the most Starc thing of all, dismissing the opposition's talismanic captain in the first over of a World Cup knockout match. He, also, for good measure, took out South Africa's T20I captain, Aiden Markram spooning a catch to backward point and Warner not just taking it but literally bouncing around with joy. Australia have a long and storied history of cutting off the head but this was just so greedy.
It was only the 12th over and already the finishers were at the crease. Miller began building South Africa's total with a sweet six over wide long-on off Adam Zampa. The only frontline spinner that Australia had brought to the World Cup was going for eight an over in bowling-friendly conditions. He gave away half of the sixes that were hit in the whole innings and Miller was the man who kept sending him over the ropes. The balance was tilting.
Cummins threw the ball to Head. He got one to spin big. The next not so much. Facing spin when that happens is a nightmare and Heinrich Klaasen epitomised it. He played for turn. It didn't do as much as he feared. As a result, he got beat on the outside edge and lost his middle stump. The next man in was lbw to a ball that deviated 5.4 degrees. Marco Jansen didn't stand a chance. Not with this much natural variation.
Miller persevered though. He became the first batter at No. 6 or lower to hit a century in a World Cup knockout match. And when he came back at the end of the innings, he said they had enough on the board. He said batting was tough out there; that he couldn't afford to look anywhere beyond the next ball that he had to face. It was an incredible knock. It was an incredible game.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Win Probability
AUS 100%
100%50%100%SA InningsAUS Innings

Over 48 • AUS 215/7

Australia won by 3 wickets (with 16 balls remaining)
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