Australia have survived another collapse on a spinning sub-continent pitch to sneak into the World Cup final against India with a nervy three-wicket win over South Africa in Kolkata.
Cruising at 0-60 in pursuit of 213 for victory in the semi-final on Thursday, Australia lost 5-67 before the experience of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins dragged them across the line with 16 balls to spare
It came after crucial contributions from Steve Smith and the inexperienced Josh Inglis, who steadied the ship to help condemn South Africa to a fifth semi-final exit without ever reaching a decider.
Australia, meanwhile, are into their eighth World Cup final, with a formidable task ahead against unbeaten hosts in Ahmedabad on Sunday.
“The good thing is a few of us have been there for a final before, so we can draw on that,” Cummins said.
“A couple of other guys in T20 finals as well.
“The stadium is going to be pretty one-sided I reckon. So you just have to embrace it and enjoy it.”
If the pitch is anything like what Australia were left to contend with at Eden Gardens, Cummins’ men will feel the impact of being the visitors on the field too.
With the ball turning sharply, Australia’s batsmen made a clear point to attack South Africa’s quicks early in the innings before battling against spin.
David Warner (29 off 18) and Travis Head (62 off 48) put on 60 for the first wicket in six overs, bludgeoning five fours and five sixes between them in the 36-ball stand.
But when Warner was bowled by Aiden Markram from the first ball of spin Australia faced, the match swung violently.
Mitch Marsh was superbly caught at cover by Rassie van der Dussen for a duck, before Head was bowled through the gate by Keshav Maharaj (1-24).
Marnus Labuschagne was out lbw trying to reverse sweep Tabriz Shami (2-42) on 18, before the left-arm wristspinner bowled Glenn Maxwell for one.
Australia were rocking at 5-137 but Smith was able to keep his composure with 30 from 62, before he swung wildly and skyed a ball from Gerald Coetzee with 39 still required.
Inglis (28) got Australia to within 20 runs of victory before he too was bowled by a Coetzee (2-47) yorker.
Quinton de Kock then dropped Cummins with nine still to win, marking the Proteas’ fifth missed chance.
That allowed Starc (16) and Cummins (14) to survive 45 balls as they knocked off the final 20 to seal victory.
“We had tough chances that we put down,” Proteas captain Temba Bavuma noted.
“Maybe we could have been more proactive.”
Australia will know they must be better against India on Sunday if they want to win their sixth ODI title.
But there were promising signs against the Proteas.
After their bowling in the powerplay had been widely critiqued throughout the tournament, Josh Hazlewood and Starc set up the win with the ball early.
The pair had South Africa 4-31 after 13 overs, bowling genuine Test cricket lines and lengths.
Hazlewood was miserly, with his return of 2-12 from eight overs the most economical of any Australian in 17 years bowling that many overs.
He sent down three overs and 39 dots out of the 48 balls he bowled, getting the key wicket of de Kock for three when the pressure told.
Starc’s 3-34 from 10 overs also marked his best figures of the World Cup after questions over his form, while Cummins’ 3-51 was crucial at the death to remove David Miller on 101.
Maxwell also did well to hold up an end with 0-35 from 10, as only Adam Zampa copped any real punishment with 0-55 from seven overs.
But just as Miller and Heinrich Klaasen (47) threatened to give the Proteas hope with a 95-run fifth-wicket stand, Head (2-21) bowled Klaasen and had Marco Jansen lbw in his first over to arrest the moment.