Australia have set up the ultimate trans-Tasman showdown by marching into their seventh World Cup final with a 95-run win over India at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The Australians have never lost a World Cup semi-final and that record rarely looked threatened after Steve Smith produced an unforgettable century and Mitchell Johnson snared two quick wickets – including that of Indian talisman Virat Kohli for one – to break the back of the visitors, who leave these shores without a single win against Darren Lehmann’s side across a four-month tour.
Awaiting Australia in the final are New Zealand, the only unbeaten team and the only team that has got the better of their co-hosts in this tournament.
The two sides will meet at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday, with the Black Caps chasing a first-ever World Cup title and the hosts looking to win an unprecedented fifth trophy.
Smith, the undisputed heir to Michael Clarke’s throne and a man who has taken his game to dramatic new heights all season, was at his consummate best on his home patch, playing the chief architect’s role in an Australian innings that at one point threatened 400 before an impressive fight-back from the defending champions kept them to a potentially gettable 7-328.
Despite being a far cry from his brutal best, Aaron Finch (81 off 116) played a vital sheet-anchor role to his more fluent teammate as the pair shared a 182-run stand for the second wicket.
Umesh Yadav got the early breakthrough for India after his captain lost the toss, hurrying David Warner (12) into a mistimed pull shot as he approached speeds of 150kph.
But just as Smith was Indian Kryptonite throughout the Border-Gavaskar series, so it proved from the outset of his innings today.
He took a couple from the first ball he faced from Yadav, timed the third beautifully through mid-off for four, and was away.
Suddenly, the man who had taken Warner’s wicket and induced a series of plays and misses from Finch was looking positively pedestrian; Smith took him for four boundaries from his fifth over, forcing Dhoni to remove him from the attack.
Steve Smith thrilled the home fans tonight // Getty Images
Smith and Finch brought up their 100 partnership in the 23rd over, and moments later India had their first serious chance at breaking the stand.
Ravi Jadeja snuck one past Finch’s bat and appeared to hit his pad adjacent to the stumps, but the decision to review the not out call was fruitless – the batsman received the narrowest benefit of the doubt via the Umpire’s Call rule.
A short while later Finch survived another television replay, this time called for by the umpire at the non-striker’s end when a Smith drive clipped Ravi Ashwin’s fingers and ricocheted onto the stumps.
The effortlessness of Smith, who cruised past 50 for the tenth time in his past 17 ODI innings, amplified the struggles of Finch, who continued to pick out fieldsmen in the middle overs, reaching his own half-century from a tellingly sedate 82 deliveries.
Steve Smith and Aaron Finch combined well together // Getty Images
Smith took a liking to Mohammed Shami’s offerings from the Randwick End, cleverly angling a pair of fours behind square and crashing a six over wide midwicket from the 33rd over as he sensed the need to up the ante.
Finch followed suit with the first ball of the following over, cutting Sharma over point for six and pulling out the ramp to great effect for another boundary moments later.
In between, Smith departed, top-edging a hook shot to end his brilliant innings on 105 and give Yadav a semblance of revenge.
Umesh Yadav tried hard for India // Getty Images
To most watching on, it appeared as if the damage had largely been done – or at least the platform perfectly laid for carnage to be inflicted by the next man in, Glenn Maxwell.
And for a brief period the Sri Lankan script was being followed – Maxwell, he of the unorthodox, assuming the role of destroyer having been given a licence to do exactly that.
But when he fell for 23 from 14, and Finch departed five balls later, the pro-Indian crowd returned to full voice.
India fans were vocal, despite their team losing // Getty Images
From 2-231 after 37 overs, Australia had slipped to 4-235 after 39, with the arguably anachronistic pairing of Shane Watson and Michael Clarke served with the task of clubbing massive runs from the remaining 11 overs.
Just how simple the likes of Maxwell and AB de Villiers have made that job seem was borne out in the following overs, as Clarke surrendered his wicket for 10 from 12 balls and Watson took 30 deliveries to make 28.
James Faulkner (21 off 12), Brad Haddin (seven off seven) and Johnson (27 not out off 12) upped the tempo in the closing overs, but India must have headed to dinner feeling cautiously optimistic at the task that lay ahead.
James Faulkner scored quick runs before being bowled // Getty Images
Four balls into their innings and there were already hearts in mouths, as Mitchell Starc found Rohit Sharma’s edge and Watson went low to cling onto the ball as it was dropping to the turf.
Replays appeared to show ball connecting with grass but were deemed inconclusive by the third umpire, who referred the decision back to the on-field umpires, who had little choice but to give Rohit not out.
Shikhar Dhawan was then given an early life when Brad Haddin dropped a sharp chance from the bowling of Josh Hazlewood, and the left-hander looked to take full advantage, enjoying the early arrival of Faulkner to the bowling crease by taking the Tasmanian for 22 in boundaries during one six-ball sequence to really kick-start the Indian reply.
The breakthrough came just as things were spiralling out of control for the Australians, and it was Hazlewood who continued a memorable summer with the key wicket of Dhawan (45 off 41), who picked out Maxwell at deep cover to end an entertaining cameo.
Just a single came from the next 15 deliveries – delivered by Johnson and Hazlewood – and the pressure told on Kohli, the new arrival at the crease.
The man who has peeled off centuries for fun during run chases over the past four years faced a sustained (in limited-overs terms, at least) spell of high-quality pace bowling before being sucked into a pull shot from a Johnson short ball.
He top-edged, Haddin positioned himself under it, and just like that, the biggest threat to Australia marching into another World Cup final was on his way back to the Members pavilion with a solitary run next to his name.
Johnson hasn’t had things his own way at this tournament and in the initial stages of India’s chase that continued, but with the wicket of Kohli he grew in confidence, even to the point that, after being pulled for six by Rohit Sharma, he bit back with a cross-seamed delivery that decked in marginally, caught the inside edge and crashed into leg stump.
The left-armer had two crucial wickets and Australia had surged into a match-winning position by taking 3-15 across five overs in what proved to be the most important phase of the contest.
Next to go was Suresh Raina, who had earlier been subjected to a verbal barrage from Mitchell Starc during a captivating battle between the pair.
After seeing off Starc, Raina edged Faulkner through to Haddin for seven and left Ajinkya Rahane (44) and Dhoni (65) with the unenviable task of needing to chase down 221 from 27 overs.
Even for Dhoni, it was a bridge too far. The pair set about their work patiently but the run rate and the Australians were relentless.
A valiant stand of 70 for the fifth wicket ended when Australia enjoyed success with a video review, replays showing the ball tickling the outside edge of Rahane’s bat to give Starc a deserved first wicket of the night as the bowling group continued to strangle the life out of proceedings.
Dhoni ploughed on, teasing the Indian faithful with consecutive sixes off Watson, but he never appeared completely intent on attacking the distant Australian total.
He and Jadeja (16) were the victims of some top-class fielding, by Maxwell and Smith respectively, who both hit the stumps to leave the batsmen stranded and the scorecard looking even more lopsided.
Glenn Maxwell celebrates during India’s collapse // Getty Images
Faulkner returned to knock over Ashwin and Mohit in consecutive deliveries and expedite the match’s conclusion, before Starc fittingly sent Australia through to another World Cup decider with the yorker that has been so ruthlessly effective all tournament.