MOHALI, India, (Reuters) – India kept alive a billion dreams after sinking Pakistan in their World Cup semi-final yesterday to set up an all-Asian final against Sri Lanka.
Unlike their opponents from across the border, India did not look overwhelmed by the hype surrounding the showdown that forced a virtual lockdown in this tiny north Indian town.
The 1983 champions put 260-9 on board and then returned to bowl out their opponents for 231 with just one delivery left to complete a 29-run victory to spark euphoria in and around the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium. The victory not only pits them against Sri Lanka in Saturday’s final between the co-hosts in Mumbai but also spared them some unnecessary plane-hopping.
“One good thing (about is this win) that the next flight would be a chartered flight. We will go to Delhi first and from there to Mumbai (without changing planes),” India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, fed up of jumping on and off connecting flights over the past six weeks, told reporters.
On the pitch, Sachin Tendulkar endured a bumpy ride yesterday. Shahid Afridi had vowed not to allow the Indian score his 100th international century against Pakistan but his team mates seemed to have different ideas.
Tendulkar was dropped by Misbah-ul-Haq, Younus Khan and Umar Akmal, whose elder brother Kamran also missed a half-chance at stumping the batsman.
This was after the Indian had successfully overturned an lbw decision that had gone against him using the same decision review system he has been critical about.
Tendulkar, however, still could not reach the 100-mark as Afridi took matters into his own hand, literally, by catching the Indian off Saeed Ajmal to dismiss the batsman for 85.
It was his opening partner Virender Sehwag (38) who gave India a blazing start, almost oblivious of the monstrous burden of expectation that rested on the shoulders of all 22 players who featured in the contest.
The presence of prime ministers of both the countries may have suited the ‘cricket diplomacy’ initiatives but if anything, it only increased the pressure on most of the players. Sehwag, however, took it all in his stride as he blasted 21 runs off an Umar Gul over, a shock the Pakistani pace spearhead could not recover from in the remainder of the match.
India, however, could not make the most of the start and Wahab Riaz’s maiden five-wicket haul restricted them to a total that would not have been possible but for Suresh Raina’s unbeaten 36-run cameo down the order.
Pakistan were off to a decent start too but while the likes of Mohammad Hafeez (43) and Asad Shadiq (30) got the starts, they could not convert it into big knocks.
Down the order, Misbah (56) came out with some lusty hits but lack of partnerships meant by then the game had slipped through Pakistan’s fingers, just like one of those catches from Tendulkar that went begging.
“Lack of partnerships has been a problem for us right from the start of the tournament and it recurred today,” Afridi rued after Pakistan once again succumbed to the jinx of never beating their arch-rivals in one-day cricket’s biggest stage.
“We have invariably won matches where we had partnerships. Besides, our shot selection was very poor.”