MOHALI, India, (Reuters) – India kept alive a billion dreams after sinking Pakistan by 29 runs in their World Cup semi-final today to set up an all-Asian final against Sri Lanka.
The 1983 champions posted 260-9 and then returned to bowl out their neighbours for 231 in 49.5 overs to spark jubilant celebrations at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium.
Opting to bat first, India got off to a rollicking start and Sachin Tendulkar (85) got a series of let-offs as well but Wahab Riaz’s (5-46) five-wicket haul restricted the co-hosts to a rather modest total.
Pakistan got off to a decent start too but losing wickets at regular intervals denied them any significant partnerships and batsmen such as Mohammad Hafeez (43) and Asad Shafiq (30) were guilty of throwing away their wickets at the most inopportune time.
Misbah-ul-Haq (56) offered some late resistance but the moment he heaved the ball high into the air, only to see it fall into Virat Kohli’s hands, a deafening roar shook the 28,000-seater stadium and reverberated around the rest of the country.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was attending the match with his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani, was seen applauding the men in blue while Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi punched the air in delight after watching the closing stages of the match in the midst of the crowd.
“Obviously this was like a final, when Pakistan play the pressure is double. Today was a big match not just for us but for the Pakistani team. We fielded very well and deserved the win today,” spinner Harbhajan Singh said after India extended their World Cup record against Pakistan to 5-0.
“We played some good cricket and we are very happy and excited to be going to Mumbai.”
For India, Yuvraj Singh (2-57) made amends for his batting failure, while Harbhajan (2-43), Ashish Nehra (2-33), Zaheer Khan (2-58) and Munaf Patel (2-40) also impressed with the ball.
Earlier, India’s pace spearhead Zaheer sent down an uncharacteristically ordinary first spell and with Hafeez and Kamran Akmal (19) regularly finding the boundaries, Pakistan began their pursuit in earnest.
Zaheer returned to remove Akmal but Hafeez and Shafiq maintained the good work until Yuvraj decided to make amends for his first ball duck at his home ground.
The local favourite removed Shafiq and Younus Khan in successive overs to change the match’s complexion and his bowling colleagues drove home the advantage.
Like most of his team mates, Umar Akmal (29) got the start too but could not convert and whatever hopes Pakistan had was dashed when Shahid Afridi made a mess of a Harbhajan full toss.
Misbah was the last man out after playing some lusty hits before holing out in the final over.
“They played better than us. We played some irresponsible shots,” summed up Afridi. “I want to say sorry to our nation. We tried our level best.”
There was considerable pressure on the players from both sides and the presence of the two prime ministers hardly helped their cause in a match that forced a virtual lockdown in this tiny north Indian town.
Pakistan looked particularly overwhelmed by the hype around the high-octane match and the ‘cricket diplomacy’ surrounding it as they dished out a sloppy fielding display of which Tendulkar was the main beneficiary.
After India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni had opted to bat first, openers Virender Sehwag (38) tore apart the Pakistani attack during a 25-ball cameo.
Riaz brought some relief in the Pakistan camp, removing the swashbuckling opener for the first of his five victims but not before his sloppy team mates gave a poor account of themselves on the field.
Misbah, Younus Khan and Umar Akmal dropped Tendulkar at different stages of the Indian’s innings, while stumper Kamran Akmal also missed a half-chance.
Afridi, also the hapless bowler on three of those four occasions, could only hold his head in dismay as his team mate squandered opportunity after opportunity.
Afridi eventually took the catch to remove Tendulkar, who had earlier used a review to successful overturn an lbw decision that had gone against him, who fell 15 run short of his 100th international century.