Manchester: Australia's World Cup hopes have taken a physical battering, with a shock defeat to South Africa forcing them into a knock-out semi-final against a resurgent England on Thursday.
A stinging 10-run loss to the Proteas in the final pool-group match on Sunday morning at Old Trafford meant the Australians squandered an opportunity to finish in top spot and remain in Manchester to face fourth-placed New Zealand in the first semi-final on Tuesday. Instead, they dropped to second and must make the trip to Birmingham to face the host nation at Edgbaston, known as the "bear pit" because of the rabid support the host nation traditionally gets there.
In a quirk of the schedule, Australia did not play there through the pool-group phase.
India and the struggling Black Caps will meet in the first semi-final for India, having thrashed Sri Lanka by seven wickets in the earlier game at Leeds on Saturday, climbed to top spot.
Led by a sublime century from captain Faf du Plessis, the Proteas raced to 6-325 off 50 overs, having had no hesitation in batting first on an excellent deck.
In reply, David Warner (122 off 117 balls) produced his third century of the tournament, coming in a week when he celebrated the birth of his third child, but it wasn't enough to conjure what would have been a remarkable win.
Tailenders Jason Behrendorff (11 not out) and Nathan Lyon (three) needed 18 off the final over but Lyon was caught at wide long on off the penultimate ball of the evening.
A frustrating day, and one that ultimately may have cost Australia the chance to retain the World Cup, was compounded by a tournament-threatening injury to Usman Khawaja (hamstring) while Mitchell Starc (2-59), who broke Glenn McGrath's record for most wickets in a World Cup, has knee issues and Marcus Stoinis had a side or back problem.
Khawaja retired hurt on six in the fifth over, having hurt himself on a quick single. He had his left hamstring strapped but lasted only one more run before leaving the field. He returned in the 46th over when Australia needed 51 to win and added 12 runs but could not accelerate between wickets.
His position for the rest of the tournament – and even the first Ashes Test next month – remains in doubt and will be determined by scans.
The International Cricket Council confirmed Australia could draft a replacement into their 15-man squad should Khawaja be ruled out for the rest of the campaign.
Peter Handscomb, having joined the squad after Shaun Marsh had his wrist broken in the nets on Thursday, would likely come into the XI for the semi-final should Khawaja be ruled out.
Should there be an early call, Mitch Marsh – who had been on standby for Stoinis earlier in the tournament – could be pulled from the Australia A tour of England and return as cover for Khawaja and Stoinis. Australia A has a four-day match against Sussex beginning today. Other replacement options include Matthew Wade and Travis Head, who are also on the "A" tour.
Stoinis, who missed two matches with a side strain earlier in the tournament and has not been 100 per cent, was inconvenienced when fielding and later required pain-killing tablets and more treatment when batting. He will also have scans.
The defeat and injuries completed a dramatic three days in Manchester, when Glenn Maxwell was also sent to hospital for scans on his forearm in a training incident but escaped serious injury.
Australian can take confidence from the 64-run win they enjoyed over England at Lord's 12 days ago but the host nation has since rediscovered its power hitting and thumped India at Birmingham last Sunday. Edgbaston offered a flat deck and this suited power hitters Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy, the latter a hard-hitting opener who missed the loss to Australia because of a strained hamstring.
It will be the first World Cup knock-out clash between the two nations since the 1987 World Cup final, when Australia prevailed by seven wickets at Kolkata.
While the Proteas were out of finals calculations, having endured their worst World Cup, du Plessis, 35 this week, was intent on making a statement in what will be his final World Cup match.