South Africa beat Afghanistan to reach the Twenty20 World Cup final

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

TAROUBA, Trinidad (AP) — A long, tortuous World Cup title drought is closer than ever to ending for South Africa after a nine-wicket win over first-time semifinalist Afghanistan at the global Twenty20 cricket tournament on Wednesday.

Marco Jansen and Kagiso Rabada set the foundations for the lopsided victory with destructive opening bursts of pace bowling to have Afghanistan reeling at 20-4 in the fourth over, and eventually all out for a paltry 56.

The South Africans lost just one wicket in pursuit of their first semifinal win at a global men’s limited-overs tournament, with Reeza Hendricks hitting a six and a four on consecutive deliveries to lift South Africa to 60 for 1 in the ninth over.

Hendricks was unbeaten on 29 from 25 balls in an unbroken 55-run second-wicket stand with skipper Aiden Markram, who finished 23 not out.

The South Africans will face either defending champion England or India in the final at Barbados on Saturday.

“One more step — it’s an exciting challenge for us,” Markram said in a post-match TV interview. “We’ve never been there (in a final) before, and nothing to be scared of.

“It’s an opportunity that we’ve never had and, and we’ll be really excited about that opportunity.”

The South Africans lost six and tied one — against eventual champion Australia in 1999 — of their previous seven trips to the semifinals of a World Cup in either the one-day or T20 formats.

Markram said those stats belonged to the teams that played those matches, and his lineup was full of belief.

Afghanistan captain Rashid Khan won the toss and opted to bat in his team’s first ever appearance in a World Cup semifinal. Everything went South Africa’s way after that.

Jansen (3-16) took wickets in the first and third overs and Kagiso Rabada (2-14) opened with a double-wicket maiden as Afghanistan slumped to 20-4 after 3.4 overs.

The opening pair that had carried Afghanistan so well during the tournament was gone, exposing the middle and lower order to a South Africa bowling attack hitting form at the perfect stage.

Rahmanullah Gurbaz (0) faced three balls before he edged to slip and was out to Jansen in the first over. Ibrahim Zadran (2) was beaten by a Rabada inswinger and bowled on the first ball of the third over.

Anrich Nortje (2-7) chimed in with two wickets as the pacemen continued to rip through the Afghanistan innings before wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi took three wickets in 11 deliveries — all lbw decisions to balls keeping low — to finish off Afghanistan for 56 in 11.5 overs.

Azmattullah Omarzai top scored with 10, the only Afghan batter to reach double figures.

South Africa lost only opener Quinton de Kock — bowled by Fazalhaq Farooqi for five in the second over — in the run chase.

“We just wanted to come out in this game and hit our straps, the way we’ve been doing throughout the entire tournament,” Rabada said of South Africa’s bowling onslaught. “We just felt that we needed to continue in that vein.

“And today it just happened for us.”

Asked if this is the team to finally end South Africa’s World Cup drought, Rabada was confident: “We 100% believe that this is the team.”

Afghanistan were playing in the last four for the first time, and they entered the match with three of the five leading wicket takers in the tournament and two of the top three batters, based on runs scored.

The Afghan team’s run to the semifinals, particularly its first win in any format against Australia and against Bangladesh in the early hours of Tuesday in the Super Eight stage, inspired a generation of fans.

Rashid said knowing Afghanistan could beat the top-ranked teams and be among the world’s best was his highlight of the tournament.

“It was something very special for us,” he said. “And it’s just the beginning for us, you know, we got that kind of confidence we want and the belief that yes, we can beat any side on a day.

“So overall, it was a great tournament for us.”

South Africa remain unbeaten at the tournament, but had to endure tough contests and narrow wins over Nepal, Netherlands, Bangladesh and England and only beat West Indies with five balls to spare in the Super Eight stage.

“A lot of our games have been really close and I know there’s a lot of people back at home in the early hours of the morning, waking up and we’re giving them a lot of gray hair!” Markram said. “So hopefully this evening was a little bit more comforting for them.”