A low-scoring thriller at Eden Gardens ended in Australia’s favour as Pat Cummins’ side sealed a spot in the final of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023.
Victory for Australia sends them through to Sunday's final against tournament hosts India, where they could win a record sixth men's Cricket World Cup crown.
Australia looked on course for a dominant day out in Kolkata when the new-ball bowlers ripped through South Africa’s top order after the Proteas opted to bat first in overcast conditions.
But a brilliant David Miller century helped South Africa reach 212 all out, leaving the bowlers something to work with in the second innings.
Requiring 213 to win – the same total as in the infamous 1999 semi-final between these two nations – Australia set about their chase in brisk fashion.
Travis Head and David Warner went firmly on the attack in the opening powerplay, only for South Africa’s spinners to turn the momentum back in their team’s favour as wickets continued to fall at crucial moments.
A topsy-turvy encounter came to a tense conclusion with South Africa throwing everything at Australia’s tail in search of the final wickets they needed to pull off a stunning comeback.
Keshav Maharaj with 1/24 from ten overs, Tabraiz Shamsi (2/42) and Gerald Coetzee (2/47) were the pick of the Proteas bowlers.
But Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins finished the job with the bat in hand, wrapping up victory with three wickets and 16 balls to spare.
Earlier, South Africa’s top order were put under enormous pressure in helpful bowling conditions after the Proteas opted to bat first in the semi-final.
Runs were extraordinarily hard to come by as South Africa slipped to 24/4 in the 12th over, with Temba Bavuma (0), Quinton de Kock (3), Aiden Markram (10) and Rassie van der Dussen (6) all falling cheaply as Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood turned the screw.
A rain delay offered South Africa a chance to regroup, and they steadily rebuilt through the middle overs, with Heinrich Klaasen (47) and Miller ensuring that the semi-final at least stayed alive.
Miller departed for 101 from 116 balls as the innings headed towards its close, with his brave effort giving South Africa’s bowlers a total to defend, with the Proteas finishing 212 all out with two balls of the allocated 50 overs remaining.
Starc finished with 3/34 from ten, Cummins with 3/51 from 9.4 overs. But the headline-grabbers with the ball for Australia were Hazlewood, who took a remarkable 2/12 from eight overs, and Travis Head, who bagged 2/21 from five, including the crucial wicket of Klaasen.
Travis Head and David Warner made a sparkling start to the chase, cutting into Kagiso Rabada and Marco Jansen in the first six overs, racing to 60/0. But Australia's serene progress came to an abrupt halt as the spinners kept the game alive.
The introduction of Aiden Markram gave South Africa initial hope as he struck with his first ball to remove Warner for 29.
And a terrific grab from Rassie van der Dussen off Kagiso Rabada saw Mitchell Marsh depart without scoring.
But Travis Head raced to a rapid half-century to keep his side well ahead of the game, with wickets-in-hand the crucial factor for Australia as they eye progress to Sunday's final.
The game looked to be drifting towards an inevitable conclusion until the spinners heaped on the pressure in the middle overs.
Maharaj provided the decisive breakthrough right at the start of his spell, cleaning up Head for a 48-ball 62.
And Tabraiz Shamsi got into the action to give South Africa real hope, removing Marnus Labuschagne (18) and Glenn Maxwell (1).
The topsy-turvy game again turned back in Australia’s favour as a drifting spell of play saw Steve Smith and Josh Inglis accumulate patiently to pull their side closer to the target.
But Smith’s patience ran out in dramatic fashion when he flailed at a delivery from Gerald Coetzee and skied a catch that was well held by the keeper, departing for 30 from 62 balls.
Another steady partnership edged Australia closer to their target, but South Africa remained in with a chance when Coetzee cleaned up Josh Inglis for 28, leaving Australia's bowlers with the task of finishing the job with the bat.
After Temba Bavuma decided to bat first in overcast conditions, Mitchell Starc struck with the new ball and accounted for the South Africa skipper for a duck in the very first over. Extracting good movement and bounce, Starc and Josh Hazlewood made the scoring a tough prospect in the early overs.
And when Quinton de Kock tried to take on Hazlewood in the sixth over, he ended up ballooning a catch towards the mid-on region. Pat Cummins held on to a brilliant take.
The Proteas were also challenged by some great fielding from Australia, especially the veteran David Warner, who wasn't shy of throwing himself around the field. A big task lay ahead for Rassie van der Dussen and Aiden Markram.
However, Starc and Cummins proved to be too good in these conditions. Markram was dismissed while trying to pierce through the point, while van der Dussen fell in the very next over when he edged one to the second slip. South Africa were four down before rain arrived to halt play.
After resumption, attacking play from David Miller lifted the Proteas effort. A number of fours and sixes flew from his willow, even as the South Africa rate picked up. He got good support from Heinrich Klaasen, who hit a couple of lusty blows against Adam Zampa to get going. Proteas seemed to be building up towards a fighting total before Travis Head turned the game around with his part-time spin.
The tweaker cleaned up Klaasen (47) after the batter missed one that came in completely. Off the very next ball, he had Marco Jansen trapped lbw for a duck.
South Africa’s chances of reaching a competitive score rested on Miller’s chances, and he delivered with a defiant century.
The number six and Gerald Coetzee put on 53 runs before Coetzee departed caught behind off Cummins for a 39-ball 19, although replays suggested that he would have survived had he reviewed the decision.
But Miller continued in style, bringing up his hundred with a six off the Australian skipper, only for the centurion to fall two balls later and miss out on the chance of a late flurry with two and a half overs of the innings remaining.
A big Kagiso Rabada maximum helped boost South Africa at the death, but Cummins wrapped things up when he removed Rabada for 10.
South Africa finished 212 all out - not quite enough to prevent more semi-final heartbreak.