South Africa crumbled under the pressure with the bat but fought resiliently with the ball in what was a bittersweet conclusion to their hard-fought ICC Cricket World Cup campaign.
With rain in the air in Kolkata, batting first against Australia may have been a questionable decision. But after winning the toss, Temba Bavuma opted to do what his side has done best in the tournament so far.
The captain was dismissed without scoring and the Proteas got off to the worst possible start.
Falling from 8/2 to 24/4 meant that a strong innings in the middle was required for a score anywhere near competitive.
David Miller provided that with an incredible 101 off 116 to get South Africa to a total of 212. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins took three wickets apiece to ensure they were bowled out in the final over.
In response, the first powerplay in the run chase aided the Aussie cause the most, as Travis Head (62) and David Warner (29) got them to 60/0 in the opening six overs.
In the middle, the spinners took the game close, but their inability to take the half chances affected South Africa negatively — with Steve Smith’s steady 30 enough to keep his side in the driver’s seat.
At the back end, Gerald Coetzee struck twice as the Proteas refused to give up. But in the end, they were still a few runs too short, as Australia won by three wickets with Starc and Cummins seeing them through.
Eight wins on the bounce see the five-time winners soar into the biggest game of world cricket once again.
Their opponents and hosts, India, go into the fixture unbeaten and hope to lift their third World Cup crown in front of the Ahmedabad faithful.
The ICC Cricket World Cup final kicks off at 10.30 am on Sunday, live on SuperSport.