Old foes, Australia and South Africa met at Old Trafford, Manchester in contrasting moods. Australia were playing for a win that would guarantee them first spot on the points table whereas South Africa were to salvage lost pride.
Proteas skipper Faf Du Plessis won the toss and decided to bat first in ideal conditions for batting. In this World Cup, the average score batting first here has been around the 320 mark.
The South Africans didn’t go with their usual opening pair of Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla, instead they promoted Aiden Markram. Their openers, especially, Amla has been circumspect but for the first time in this quadrennial event the batsmen were able to break the shackles inside the first Powerplay after mustering 73 runs.
The partnership flourished and was looking threatening for the Aussies. There was enough for the spinners if they could find the right channel to bowl and who better than Nathan Lyon to exploit it. In the 12th over, Markram was enticed out of his crease and was stumped for 34.
Quinton de Kock, one of the consistent performers for the Proteas has the tendency to lose his mojo in ICC tournaments. Before the World Cup he was the top run-getter after amassing 469 runs with an average of 67 runs per match. In this World Cup, he got starts but threw away his wicket after scoring 40s and 50s.
Today was nothing different. He looked in sublime touch and took on the likes of Mitchell Starc and Patrick Cummins. He reached yet another half-century and was set for another big innings but once again threw his wicket away after reaching yet another 50.
Captain Du Plessis was accompanied by van der Dussen at the crease. The captain took the onus of keeping the scoreboard ticking and ensure the momentum wasn’t lost. van der Dussen decided to play the anchor’s role while Du Plessis kept on tormenting the Aussie bowlers. In the process he brought up his first century of the tournament in 92 balls.
Few balls later, he was deceived by a Behrendorff slower ball that held in the pitch. van der Dussen, settled by now, started to find boundaries on a regular basis. He not only increased his strike- rate but ensured South Africa always were scoring at a good rate. He deserved a century but tantalizingly fell short by 5 runs. However his late flourish ensured South Africa posted 325/6 in their allotted 50 overs.
Australia have won 6 out of 7 matches batting first in this tournament. Heading into the semi-final it was their final chance to check the best permutations and combinations. Chasing a total over 320 in a World Cup game is not easy. Also consider this: since 2012 South Africa have a win:loss ratio of 16.75 whenever they have scored above 300.
The opening combo of Aaron Finch and David Warner couldn’t flourish. Finch’s innings was cut short when he chipped the ball to Aiden Markram at short cover. Australia suffered another blow when Khawaja pulled a hamstring in the 5th ball of the innings.
Few overs later Steve Smith was trapped plumb in front and Australia were in trouble. Meanwhile, Warner painfully saw these things unfolding from the non-striker’s end. He required some support from the incoming batsmen. Marcus Stoinis seemed to the perfect fiddle for him. He held up one end thus allowing Warne to play his strokes freely.
Both added 62 runs for the fourth wicket and 38 of those were scored by Warner. But in the 19th over, De Kock’s brilliance sent Stoinis packing. With a no-look back flick he produced a fantastic piece of work.
Few moments later, he took a stunner to get rid of Glenn Maxwell. Alex Carey joined Warner at the crease. The fall of wickets didn’t hamper Warner at all. He continued his aggressive ways and reached his 3rd century of this 2019 World Cup.
Carey too joined the party matching Warner shot for shot. Both kept Australia in the hunt for the herculean chase. It took a brilliant diving catch from Morris to remove the Southpaw. With Warner’s wicket, Carey went to fifth gear. He played out the pacers without any fuss and attacked Tabraiz Shamsi, the weak link in the South African bowling. He tried but the required rate was getting out of hand and in the quest for quick runs sliced a ball to Markram to deep extra cover, it was the final nail in the coffin. Mitchell Starc hit some lusty blows but it wasn’t enough and Australia fell short by 10 runs.
With this loss, Australia are displaced from the 1st place. They are back at Edgbaston to play England in the second semifinal. Last time Australia played a semi-final at this venue was in 1999, where the famous tie took place, ‘the Klusener moment’.