Australia are definitely head-and-foot above South Africa in big-match situations and if it boils down to nerves, Pat Cummins‘ side would perhaps have the edge.The Australia skipper admitted as much on Wednesday, although “It’s a new day, a new game and we start from scratch.” His South Africa counterpart Temba Bavuma too is aware of that, reminding that onlyQuinton de Kock and David Miller have been in that stage before.
Bavuma continues to nurse an injured hamstring and he indicated he was not yet “100 per cent” fit, although he is feeling fine. The call on whether he goes out for the toss or Aiden Markram stands in for him, will be taken on Thursday morning.
South Africa would have more worries than just Bavuma as they were exposed to their fallibility to spin during their league match here against India. It was a learning experience for them and might come handy against Australia.
Bavuma had a close look at the wicket and, if left to himself, would go in with two spinners in Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi.
Cummins, who too spied spin in the Eden wicket during ‘inspection’ on Tuesday, has Adam Zampa at his disposal. Zampa is currently on top of the wicket-takers’ list and Thursday might be an opportunity to extend that. Turn could well provide the final twist.
The focus will, however, be on the batters, particularly the power-hitters. There are just too many of them in Thursday’s game. Glenn Maxwell to name one, who suffered cramps during his mesmerizing 201 against Afghanistan. He underwent precautionary scans on Wednesday. “Maxi is all clear,” Cummins revealed. “He was a little bit sore yesterday. Yeah, we get scans a lot of the time just to make sure that if there is something, we know what we’re dealing with and fortunately it came back all okay.”
Mitchell Marsh is another one who gives Australia a lot of confidence, particularly after his 177 against Bangladesh.
Then there is Quinton de Kock on the other side of the spectrum. In his swansong tournament, he has been playing with a lot of purpose. He is a match-winner in the truest sense and Australia will have to strategize well to restrict him, and Markram, and David Miller.
Of course, all that if the cyclonic storm forecast for Kolkata on Thursday and Friday stays away long enough for cricket to happen. If rain stops play on Thursday, the reserve day will be activated on Friday. In case of a washout, South Africa will advance to the final.
History is tilted in favour of Australia, but Cummins would not attach too much importance to that either. Although they lost the league match to South Africa, the teams know that the conditions here will be a lot different. Australia have risen like Phoenix since and South Africa have shown their weakness while chasing.
History will count for nothing on the given day and Cummins, on a roll with seven wins, warned: “We have crossed 400 a few times and it’s a scary proposition.” It is.
When SA almost got over the line
The 1999 World Cup semifinal between Australia and South Africa swayed back and forth multiple times before it ended in a tie.
The odds heavily favoured South Africa when Player of the Tournament Lance Klusener smashed Damien Fleming for two successive boundaries off the first two balls of the final over. The Proteas needed just one run from the next four deliveries but a mix-up between Klusener and Allan Donald resulted in a run out and the match ended in a tie.
Allan Donald of South Africa is run out and Australia go through to the World Cup final. (Ross Kinnaird/Allsport/Getty Images)
Earlier, Shaun Pollock (5-36) and Allan Donald (4-32) took nine wickets between them to restrict Australia for 213. The Aussies could have been bowled out for much lower score if not for a fifth wicket stand of 90 between Steve Waugh (56) and Michael Bevan (65).
If South Africa thought they could cruise to victory, it wasn’t to be as Shane Warne (4-29) took three of first four wickets to have them reeling at 61-4. Like Australia, a fifth-wicket partnership of 84 between Jacques Kallis (53) and Jonty Rhodes (43) kept South Africa’s ship from sinking.
Australia, though, kept taking wickets, took the match to the final over and kept cool when it mattered to seal a spot in the final thanks to their better run-rate in the Super Six stage.