A thriller at the Eden Gardens: that was the second semifinal of the Cricket World Cup, on Thursday. Australia survived a mighty scare from South Africa to meet India in the final on Sunday. India had on Wednesday subdued New Zealand in an enthralling encounter — their toughest match of the tournament so far.
When South Africa crashed to 24/4 under overcast skies in Kolkata, there were visions of another choke. After the juddering start in 12.5 overs, David Miller hauled them out of the coals with a fighting century, and the Proteas fought bitterly to defend 212.
South Africa’s fall and the fightback
After a pulsating start of 74 in 10 overs, mainly due to the bravura of Travis Head and David Warner, Australia slipped into troubled waters. The rest of the way was an agonising crawl as Australia sneaked home by three wickets. Despite the gallant fight, the inescapable truth is that South Africa tripped again in another World Cup knockout phase.
Australia may have won, but their wobbly chase does not augur well, going into the title clash in a couple of days. India have a far superior attack than South Africa, especially the spinners. So they may not be able to wriggle out.
However, captain Pat Cummins will take heart from the incredible spells of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, who posed plenty of problems for the Proteas. They will square off against the Indian batting juggernaut, led by Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, which has racked up huge totals and has chased well. No Achilles heel there.
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That puts India in pole position, having dominated the league games, although they were stretched by the Kiwis in the knockout game. They will take the learnings from that tight match into the final, particularly the need to tighten the fielding.
So it’s advantage India in Ahmedabad. Don’t write off the Australians: they are five-time winners. But if India play to potential, there’s no stopping them. A third World Cup win looms large.
Keep your eyes peeled on Sunday.