Australia falls 80 runs short as Kagiso Rabada returns figures of 6 for 25 in the semi-final
First, Clyde Fortuin’s 74 took South Africa to 230 for 9, and then Kagiso Rabada, who finished with figures of 6 for 25, reduced Australia to tatters with his pace, ending at 150 in 42.2 overs. With the 80-run win, South Africa has now secured five consecutive wins going into the final against Pakistan at the same venue on March 1.
Australia had to register the highest chase in the tournament to win the game, but its top order simply did not have any answer to Rabada.
Rabada has been menacing throughout the tournament and, once again, provided his side with an early breakthrough when Matthew Short was slow on the pull and was caught behind.
Then came the best delivery of the innings. A length delivery from Rabada, which clocked 139 kmh, went between Damien Mortimer’s bat and pads to knock the stumps out. Soon after that, Jaron Morgan, who had looked a class apart against West Indies in the quarter-final, dragged a wide ball from Rabada on to his wickets.
With figures of 3 for 18 in his first spell, Rabada had put South Africa in a commanding position. Justin Dill replaced Rabada from the pavilion end and was determined to stay ahead of Rabada as South Africa’s leading wicket-taker of the competition. However, by the end of the day, Rabada had overtaken Dill, but Dill was unlikely to be complaining.
Credit should also go to South Africa's captain, Aiden Markram, for his smart captaincy. He opened the attack with a mix of spin and seam, making it difficult for the batsmen to settle. And, after Rabada had given him three early wickets, Markram set an attacking field with six-to-seven fielders inside the ring even while Jake Doran and Australia captain Alex Gregory, were resurrecting the innings with a stand of 63 for the fourth wicket.
They did find seven boundaries but it was a matter of time before something gave with the gap between runs required and balls left getting smaller. And sure enough, when Gregory drove Corbin Bosch uppishly, Rabada smartly held on to the chance at mid-off.
Australia’s death knell arrived off the first ball of the 33rd over when a faint edge from Doran, Australia’s best batsman of the tournament, off a length delivery from Bosch gave Fortuin an easy catch.
Soon after that, Rabada got Thomas Andrews caught by Yaseen Valli at short mid-wicket in the second over of his second spell, and then found Ben Ashkenazi’s edge to give Fortuin his third catch of the evening and seal a fifer for himself.
Valli joined the party to bowl James Bazley, Australia’s last hope, and Rabada had Guy Walker caught at mid-off to wrap things up.
Before Rabada made everyone stand up and take note of him again, Fortuin returned to form in the first half of the match to give South Africa a strong total.
Fortuin and Markram put on an opening stand of 105 with some great batting that was peppered with a number of stylish shots on both sides of the wicket.
Markram had come into the game with back-to-back unbeaten centuries and looked set for yet another long haul right from the time he got going with a flick to the fine-leg fence. Technically solid, his batting had a mark of assuredness that showed why South Africa has not lost a game in the competition yet.
But as much as Markram was a delight to watch, Fortuin dominated the partnership. Fortuin had shown a glimpse of his talent with a century in the warm-up game against India, but had not made a real impact in the tournament since then. Determined to make the big occasion count, he batted with intent.
The striking features of his innings, just like in that knock against India, were that he was easy on the eyes and seemed to have a lot of time to decide on his strokes.
Aware that the pitch had flattened over the course of the tournament, the two played most of their shots through the line of the delivery and brought up the half-century stand in 11 overs. With that, they had successfully managed to reverse the trend of teams losing early wickets after electing to bat.
Gregory was quick to spot that his seamers were not as productive as they were against West Indies a few days back, and introduced the left-arm spinner Andrews in the ninth over itself. Fortuin, however, gorged on the generous offerings as Andrews was quick through the air and offered no flight.
It forced Gregory to bring back his seamers, who have usually been on top of their game throughout the tournament, but they did not help their cause as they bowled nine extra deliveries in the first 15 overs.
As the parents of the South Africa cricketers in the stands were preparing themselves for yet another special show from the team’s skipper, Bazley accounted for Markram in the 21st over when Walker dived full to his right at point to pull off a stunner. Markram made 45, taking his tournament tally to 304 runs.
Fortuin continued to do his job at an easy pace with Kirwin Christoffels when Gregory introduced Short in the 31st over, and off his first delivery, a fullish one, Short had Fortuin driving straight to Andrews at cover.
That was just the breakthrough Australia was looking for. It tightened the screws through its spinners and conceded just 80 runs in the last 20 overs with eight wickets falling along the way.
Gregory lapped up Christoffels at cover off a leading edge from a Short delivery, and Andrews picked up his first wicket when Greg Oldfield played a straight drive with a tight bottom hand and was caught and bowled.
Three wickets fell for just 17 runs and South Africa could not get a grasp of things after that. Bosch looked uncomfortable in the middle and was bowled when he tried to make room to Billy Stanlake, and then Ashkenazi, who had troubled the openers but had been unlucky till the 46th over, returned to send Bradley Dial and then bowled Rabada off the last ball of the innings.
Rabada would have known by then that he had to put up a special show with the ball to take his team to the final for the third time in the history of the competition and that’s just what he did.