It happened again to South Africa.
Once more, the semifinals proved to be the ceiling for the Proteas at the Cricket World Cup.
And once again, the knockout blow was delivered by Australia, whose ability to rise to the occasion on the biggest stage in limited-overs cricket remains unmatched — and in such contrast to South Africa.
There was no choking — the word that is synonymous, perhaps harshly, with South Africa at World Cups — in their tense three-wicket loss at Eden Gardens on Thursday.
Yet it was still a fifth semifinal elimination in this tournament, after 1992, 1999, 2007 and 2015. Three of those painful exits have now come at the hands of Australia.
In ‘99, the South African meltdown came in a chaotic last over at Edgbaston in England, capped by that famous run-out of a stranded Allan Donald which allowed Australia to advance courtesy of a tie.
In ‘07, the collapse came early in St. Lucia when falling to 27-5 after choosing to bat, and eventually losing by seven wickets with 111 balls remaining.
For that reason, there were similarities to 2007 in Thursday’s painful loss.
Under a gray, threatening sky and up against brilliant swing and seam bowling of Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, the Proteas lost captain Temba Bavuma (0) in the first over, ground to a halt on 10-2 after eight overs following dangerman Quinton de Kock’s dismissal for 3, and then slumped to 24-4 after the departures of Aiden Markram (10) and Rassie van der Dussen (6).
David Miller, with a determined innings of 101, guided the team to a below-par but ultimately respectable 212 all out, but it needed a near-flawless performance in the field to hold back the Australians.
That didn’t happen.
South Africa fans were seen shaking their heads in the crowd as pacer Marco Jansen bowled three wides in a four-ball span in the third over of the reply.
Kagiso Rabada gave David Warner a free hit because of a no-ball — and saw the veteran opener use it to smash him for a second straight six.
Travis Head was dropped by both sub fielder Reeza Hendricks and Heinrich Klaasen in the space of 14 balls. Four overs later, De Kock, the wicketkeeper, couldn’t hold onto Steve Smith’s edge off spinner Tabraiz Shamsi. There were four dropped catches in total.
It made the late-innings comeback all the more infuriating for South Africa’s fans as spinners Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj tied down Australia’s batters on a pitch that spun plenty. Again it was a case of what could have been as first Josh Inglis, then Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins eked out the final crucial runs in an increasingly tense atmosphere in Kolkata’s storied stadium.
“It was a bit of dogfight,” Bavuma said. “Looking at the result of the game, the way we started with the bat and the ball was probably the turning point and where we lost it quite badly.”
In the end, South Africa will rue the fact that its powerful batting lineup — one that struck fear into opponents for much of the group stage — failed to fire.
De Kock hit 591 runs in the group stage and just three in the semifinals in what proved to be his last ODI. Bavuma didn’t make more than 35 in a single innings this tournament and finished with a duck. Markram, so overpowering at his best, had a strike rate of just 50 against Australia, which fielded energetically and bowled precisely.
“They were outstanding for a large part of the game today and thoroughly deserved the victory,” Bavuma said of Australia.
“I thought Hazlewood and Starc were ruthless. They exploited every bit of advantage that was presented to them and really put us under pressure. When you are 24-4, you are always going to struggle to get a competitive total.”
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