Can you ever feel the ghosts in the machine? You might not, but they will be creeping out of every corner of Eden Gardens, which is the most perfect venue for a contest loaded with historical baggage. It’s Australia versus South Africa in a World Cup semi-final. If you’re not already getting goosebumps, then you must be emotionless.Do away with your trust in form and fortune, and the falsehood that the best team always wins. Instead, embrace a scenario where every move by South Africa feels like it’s attached to invisible strings, pulling them back through time and space… through 2015, through 2007, through 2003, through 1999 and 1992… and back into the unknown from where all their World Cup agonies initially sprang.It’s grotesquely unjust. History is prophecy. It’s a thousand “I told you sos” chanting in unison at the inevitable moment when South Africa’s dream of World Cup glory suffers another ugly and undignified death. But, make no mistake, that’s the baggage Temba Bavuma’s team will be obliged to bring with them to the field on Thursday. They don’t get to ignore the doubts and the doubters in this contest.For, facing them will be cricket’s most legendary champions, Australia. With five titles to their name, and only four losses in 18 knockout matches since the very first semi-final in 1975, Australia’s presence on such occasions is almost a given. Since 1992, no team has won a World Cup without defeating them first. South Africa boasts a positive win-loss record (55 to 50), including 15 victories in their last 18 meetings, and they finished with seven wins in their nine group games in the same group as their opponents. They also racked up four totals in excess of 350 – more than any other side. And, they hold the highest score ever made at a World Cup – 428 for 5 against Sri Lanka in Delhi.But, they’ve also got history, as their opponents are only too happy to remind them. Even South Africa’s happiest memories of Eden Gardens were overshadowed by Australian one-upmanship. What South Africa would give for their first World Cup. Their rugby team has won four World Cups since the first victory in 1995 but their cricket team has endured angst.Since the players are born, they are agonizingly burdened by the past. Temba Bavuma, their first black cricket captain, is two matches away from emulating his rugby counterpart Siya Kolisi. He’s under scrutiny due to a hamstring strain, raising echoes of 2015’s semi-final. South Africa need to produce the game of their lives on Thursday, and then some. It’s cruel, but those are the rules.Until it was trumped by the most extraordinary ODI innings of all time, it was hard to imagine how Heinrich Klaasen’s blistering century against England at the Wankhede could possibly be outdone. Much like the Maxwell masterpiece that surpassed it, Klaasen’s 109 from 67 balls was characterized by riotous hitting in the face of physical debilitation. After a slow start, Adam Zampa recovered and he is a significant threat now.
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