By Nick Mulvenney
Steve Smith’s sublime century laid the groundwork and Australia’s pace bowlers finished the job to send the co-hosts storming into a seventh World Cup final with a 95-run victory over champions India on Thursday.
Australia move on to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and a shot at a fifth title against New Zealand on Sunday, while India head home after four months Down Under having come up short in their bid to retain the title they won four years ago.
Smith’s 105 helped Australia to a total of 328 for seven, the highest in a World Cup semi-final, and although skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni hit a defiant 65, India were dismissed for 233 in the 47th over.
“We thought 330 was around par but we knew we had to bowl and field well and the boys did a terrific job tonight,” said Smith.
“Just happy we got over the line in the end. I’m just looking forward to Melbourne. It’s going to be a hell of a day.”
India might have fancied their chances of chasing the target down after a solid start on a good pitch in perfect weather conditions and backed by the majority of a crowd of 42,330 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Mitchell Johnson and Josh Hazlewood had other ideas, however, and they tore the heart out of India’s top order by sending Shikhar Dhawan (45), Virat Kohli (1) and Rohit Sharma (34) back inside six overs.
When James Faulkner, who had been hammered for 23 runs by Dhawan in his first two overs, got into the act by dismissing Suresh Raina (7), India had lost four of their most coveted wickets for the addition of just 32 runs to fall to 108-4.
Johnson’s bowling was as potent as it has been all tournament and the delivery that clean bowled Rohit a ball after the opener had the temerity to hit him for six sent one bail flying 20 feet behind the stumps.
Dhoni and Ajinkya Rahane (44) set about rebuilding the innings with a partnership of 70 but when the captain was run out ambling down the wicket by a direct hit from Glenn Maxwell, the die was cast.
“We came back quite well but we could have bowled better,” said Dhoni, who said he would not be retiring.
“A lot of people did not think we’d come so far in the tournament.”
Faulkner added a flourish by bowling Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohit Sharma in successive deliveries to finish with 3-59 but Umesh Yadav blocked the hat-trick ball.
Smith had earlier reprised his role as India’s tormentor-in-chief, rarely looking troubled in his 122-minute, 93-ball knock and sharing a second-wicket partnership of 182 with opener Aaron Finch (81).
The 25-year-old hit 11 fours and two sixes to give India a rude reminder of his prolific form in the Test series around New Year, when he scored a century in all four matches.
He secured his fourth straight half century at the World Cup in 53 balls and was soon surging towards his fourth ODI century, which he secured from 89 balls with a six and a four off successive deliveries.
With Yadav (4-72) to the fore, however, India struck back to remove Smith and then the power-hitters in Australia’s middle order.
A late Johnson cameo of 27 not out off nine balls helped bolster Australia’s tally and India will rue their failure to dismiss their opponents for the first time in eight matches at the World Cup.