Hosts edge out arch-rivals Pakistan in tense battle
An atypical Sachin Tendulkar, a menacing Munaf Patel and a wily spell of spin bowling from Harbhajan Singh propelled India into the final of the 2011 World Cup, with a hard fought 29 win over arch-rivals Pakistan at Mohali yesterday.
India will now face Sri Lanka in a battle for sub-continental and world supremacy in the final at Mumbai on April 2.
Despite the heated interest in the game (an estimated 1 billion people across the world watched the game), it was really not a classic, but rather a gripping affair that swung patently one way and the other, before the hosts managed to wrest the initiative in the latter half of the game to end with an ultimately comfortable victory. The win also keeps India’s record of not having lost a World Cup match against Pakistan intact.
Tendulkar’s scratchy 85 was the highest score in the game as India put on an imposing looking 260 for the loss of nine wickets in their fifty overs before restricting Pakistan to 231 through a disciplined effort with the ball, best illustrated by the even distribution of the ten wickets among all five bowlers.
India’s total could have been far less had Pakistan not put in an absolutely shocking shift in the field, dropping catches like nine pins. Their fielding did not back up a solid effort with the ball, led by left-arm quick Wahab Riaz who finished with 5-46 in his ten overs.
The great Tendulkar fell 15 short of what would have been a magical hundredth international hundred, but he will certainly not mind, since the prize for this victory is a chance for a shot at the World Cup title; a piece of silverware that has agonisingly eluded him all throughout a glittering 21-year career.
Set a target of 260 on a track that was rapidly crumbling and slowing, Pakistan started brightly enough with openers Mohammad Hafeez and Kamran Akmal putting the hard new ball to good use. The pair put on 44 in eight overs before Akmal drove uppishly at a Zaheer Khan slower ball to Yuvraj at point.
His opening partner Hafeez fell after playing an inexplicable shot, trying to drag a ball from wide outside off-stump to fine leg and edging it to MS Dhoni.
Hafeez had looked the most dangerous Paksitan batsman, his 43 made in quick time and laced with seven beautiful boundaries.
Pakistan never seemed to recover from his dismissal and they failed to string partnerships together for the rest of the innings.
Younis Khan made a strangely struggling 13, while a potentially dangerous innings from Umar Akmal was cut short by Harbhajan.
Misbah-ul-Haq held up his end, playing the sheet anchor role with a sedate knock, but his 56 of 76 balls in truth never threatened to take the game away from the Indians..
The run rate was always against the Pakistanis and most of the batsmen fell trying to accelerate; captain Shahid Afridi’s wild swipe at a low Harbajhan full-toss epitomising the Pakistani demise.
Earlier, a charmed Tendulkar managed to survive four dropped chances and two other close calls; one stumping decision that could have gone either way and one leg-before that was originally ruled out, but salvaged on referral.
Tendulkar top-scored with 85 in India’s total of 260, which had at one point of time, threatened to spiral into the high 300s through a rollicking start, provided to the hosts by Virender Sehwag.
Sehwag slammed 21 off Umar Gul’s second over, setting up a terrible day with the leather for the tall Pakistani quick who went for 69 in his eight overs.
But Sehwag’s imposing looking innings was soon brought to a close by Riaz, who was undoubtedly Pakistan’s star of the day. The left-arm quick who was a late inclusion in the side ahead of Shoaib Akhtar, showed that his inclusion was with good reason, generating good pace with swing and seam movement.
He dismissed Sehwag in his first over and then later took two in two balls to finish with a career best 5 for 46.
Riaz was ably supported in the bowling department by Saeed Ajmal, who took 2-44 in his ten overs, including the wicket of Tendulkar courtesy of a sharp catch by Afridi at short cover. It was no less than Ajmal deserved after continually troubling the great man with his flight and turn.
But at the end, it was Tendulkar’s India who progressed and the man dubbed the “Little Master” will look forward to another engaging spin battle in the final. This time his adversary will be an old foe; Sri Lanka legend Muttiah Muralidaran who will also be making his last bow this Saturday.
Courtesy of The Daily Star