India enters final with hard fought win over Pakistan

A collective effort in all the three departments of the game helped India overcome Pakistan in a hard fought second semi-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup at the PCA Stadium in Mohali. The Indian bowling, which was a spinner short, rallied strongly to overcome a stiff resistance from the Pakistan top and middle order. The team now goes to Mumbai where they play Sri Lanka in the final on Saturday, April 2.

The Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the toss and decided to bat first. India dropped R Ashwin and brought in Ashish Nehra expecting the pitch to offer more assistance to the seamers rather than the spinners. Pakistan made no change to the squad that defeated West Indies in the quarter finals. The start could not have been more electric. After a quite first two overs, Virender Sehwag launched himself on Umar Gul, who had said that he would target the Indian top order. Five fours came off the over as the crowd went delirious. Umar Gul was taken by the scruff of the neck and he wilted. India raced to 47 in the first five overs. Wahab Riaz was introduced into the attack in the 6th over and soon shocked India with the wicket of Sehwag. He got the ball to pitch in line with leg stump and the ball held its line when it beat Sehwag’s attempted flick and struck him on the pads. It was a big wicket for Pakistan and India lost the early momentum.

Sachin Tendulkar took over the scoring responsibilities with Gautam Gambhir. Right from the introduction of spin in the form of Saeed Ajmal in the 9th over, it was evident that everybody got the pitch wrong. This pitch was not a batting belter as was expected. On the contrary, the pitch aided spin hugely and batting would get very difficult later on. Tendulkar survived two close shaves in Ajmal’s second over – an appeal for lbw was upheld by the field umpire but was reversed on review as the ball was missing leg stump and the very next ball a smart stumping effort from Kamran Akmal was just not enough as the batsman had landed his feet in the nick of time. Tendulkar was to play perhaps the luckiest and chancy innings of his career as he was dropped by Misbah-ul-Haq off the bowling of Shahid Afridi in the 14th over.

The run rate dipped to just above six an over from the heady nine an over in the early stages of the innings. Gautam Gambhir was the next man to be dismissed in the 19th over as a flighted delivery from Mohammad Hafeez drew him out of the crease but he missed the ball and saw Kamran Akmal take the bails off in a flash. Tendulkar continued to be lucky as he was dropped once again off Afridi. Wahab Riaz was brought for a second spell in the 24th over and in the 26th over made an immediate impact on the match. First he had Virat Kohli weakly hit a ball straight to the fielder at point and off the next ball got the big wicket of Yuvraj Singh with a swinging low full toss that crashed on to the stumps.

Tendulkar, meanwhile, had crossed his fifty and along with Dhoni pushed India along before he was dropped again off the bowling of Afridi. The ball was changed in the 34th over and soon Tendulkar was dropped yet again, this time off the bowling of Mohammad Hafeez! However, he fell soon after as Saeed Ajmal got the batsman to drive but Afridi at short cover took the catch to the palpable relief of Pakistan. Scoring runs was increasingly difficult now especially against the spinners. The Indians lost their sixth wicket as Wahab Riaz continued to impress. He got a ball to pitch in line with the stumps and rapped Dhoni on the pads and the batsman had to go after the review confirmed that the ball would have hit the stumps.

The batting Powerplay was taken in the 44th over and thankfully for the Indians the runs started flowing again though not at a hectic pace. Suresh Raina with the lower order carried India to 260/9 but not before Wahab Riaz completed a fine five wicket haul. He was the pick of the bowlers with 5/46 and was ably supported by Saeed Ajmal with 2/44 and Hafeez with 1/34. Umar Gul was thoroughly disappointing to finish with 0/69 in his 8 overs. Pakistan were happy to have restricted India to this total after it looked like India would score in excess of 300 when the top three were batting.

The Pakistani openers chose to play positive cricket right from the time they started the chase. Kamran Akmal found two fours in the first over and Hafeez took a couple of boundaries against Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra. Further boundaries came off Munaf Patel as Pakistan appeared to have found the ideal way to go about the chase. Akmal, however, was guilty of not reading a slower delivery from Zaheer Khan and his attempted drive went so far as only the fielder at point. Hafeez continued to impress with his range of strokes and when the cool Asad Shafiq cut Harbhajan Singh in front of square for four, things were not looking good for India.

Munaf Patel, whose second spell was far better than the first, then accounted for Hafeez. The batsman attempted a sweep against Munaf but could only edge the ball to wicket keeper Dhoni. It was a poor shot from Hafeez. Asad Shafiq and Younis Khan nudged along and the score reached 100 in the 23rd over. The required rate was climbing at this stage and there was a sense of urgency in the Pakistan camp. This translated to pressure and Shafiq tried to play a cut shot against a full delivery from Yuvraj but missed and saw his middle stump uprooted. It was just the breakthrough that India needed. Yuvraj continued his good work as he tempted Younis Khan to drive but the batsman could only hit it to Raina who took a good catch.

The match was growing in intensity now and very much hung in the balance. Umar Akmal decided that attack was the best defence and hit a four and two murderous sixes off Yuvraj to tilt the scales back. After the drinks break, Harbhajan struck with his first ball and found the gap between Akmal’s bat and pad and the ball crashed on to the stumps. The Indians were cock-a-hoop now. Abdul Razzaq was not at all comfortable in his brief stay at the crease and was soon done in by a beautiful delivery from Munaf Patel that clipped his off stump. Pakistan were losing their way here and only Shahid Afridi remained before the tail arrived.

Afridi hung around with Misbah-ul-Haq who batted very defensively. The combination of Afridi’s attack and Misbah’s defense did not work. Afridi tried to hit a full toss from Harbhajan Singh but could not find the distance and the ball went to cover where Sehwag made no mistake. The required rate was approaching 10 an over at this stage and the match was all but over. Wahab Riaz, pressurized by four dot balls from Nehra, hit out to Tendulkar at cover and Umar Gul was trapped in front by a full delivery from Nehra. Misbah-ul-Haq flashed his bat for some boundaries but it was too late. He was the last man dismissed in the 50th over as his wild swing landed safely in the hands of Virat Kohli at long on. India had won by 29 runs and marched to the final of the World Cup! The crowd erupted and the whole of the nation celebrated this win.

Pakistan were done in by some poor bowling from Gul and absolutely poor catching from their fielders. The spinners did an excellent job, so did the impressive Wahab Riaz. The batsmen started positively but a defensive approach from Misbah-ul-Haq was not what they needed. Misbah cannot be blamed for that is how he has batted all his life. All their batsmen got starts but none of them could convert those into a match-winning innings and they slid to defeat. But they can hold their heads high, for the events over the last six months had put Pakistan cricket at its nadir. Afridi held the team together in times of turmoil and showed the virtues of unity.

India will be very pleased with the team effort. The batsmen, the bowlers and the fielders combined to beat Pakistan. Tendulkar was lucky but it was his focus despite all that was happening that helped India reach 260 which was enough on the night. The batsmen will have to do better in the big final. When the tournament started, batting was India’s strong point but it is less so now. The bowling has improved but the seamers need to learn to take wickets very early. India will assess its chances against a formidable Sri Lanka in the final on Saturday. If the team work in this match is anything to go by, then the Indians have every chance of winning the big prize.

Sri Lanka enters final despite middle order wobble

It was Sri Lanka’s as well as Muthiah Muralitharan’s night. After a brief middle order collapse, Sri Lanka entered the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup beating New Zealand by 5 wickets at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. Muralitharan, playing his last match in Sri Lanka, made the match a memorable one by picking two wickets when New Zealand batted. The Lankans now travel to Mumbai for the big final hoping to give Muralitharan the best farewell gift that a cricketer could get – the World Cup.

On a sunny afternoon, New Zealand won the toss and decided to bat first, despite recent results at the ground where chasing has been relatively easy. Perhaps, the Kiwi skipper Daniel Vettori felt that they were better off bowling second. The Kiwis brought in seamer Andy McKay in place of Luke Woodcock. Sri Lanka chose to retain the same eleven that defeated England in the quarter final despite Muralitharan not being 100% fit.

The start was solid for the Kiwis. After just one over from the seamer Lasith Malinga, skipper Kumar Sangakkara turned to spin. McCullum hit Rangana Herath for a six over deep square leg but fell in the 8th over trying to repeat the shot as he lost his stumps. Jesse Ryder and Martin Guptill carried on and the runs came off Angelo Mathews as the spinners proved difficult to hit. As their struggles against spin continued, Ryder was caught behind off Muralitharan to a delivery that bounced more than usual, took the edge of his bat and landed in Sangakkara’s gloves. New Zealand’s best batsman Ross Taylor was now at the crease and he had to see Guptill too depart to the pavilion. Malinga, brought back for a second spell, struck with his third ball with a searing yorker and had Guptill’s defences shattered. The Kiwis were in real trouble at 84/3 in the 22nd over.

Scott Styris and Taylor had the responsibility of doing the repair job. The spinners tightened the screws and the runs were really hard to come for the Kiwis. However, when Malinga made a mistake with his lengths, Styris was quick to latch on to the opportunity and score two boundaries. Sangakkara rotated his spinners very well with the result that New Zealand could not be comfortable with any single bowler to try and increase the scoring rate. Malinga’s third spell was greeted with two more boundaries by Styris. New Zealand were going along well without further losses and planning an attack in the last 10 overs when Ajantha Mendis had Taylor pull a short ball straight to the fielder at deep midwicket. Taylor was not at all comfortable during his stay at the crease.

Kane Williamson revealed why he is so highly rated by the Kiwis as he attacked Malinga and Muralitharan with boundaries. After a brief cameo, he fell to a full delivery from Malinga that trapped him in front of the crease. From 192/5, the rest of the batting capitulated as the Kiwis were dismissed for 217 in the 49th over. Muralitharan earned a wicket off his last delivery in Sri Lanka as he had Styris trapped in front. The spinners were again the pick for Sri Lanka as they bowled 35 overs and shared seven wickets. They were well supported by Malinga who took wickets at crucial moments and ended with 3/55.

Upul Tharanga and Tillakaratne Dilshan continued from where they left off against England. The start was rollicking as Tharanga jumped out and hit Nathan McCullum straight down for a six. Tharanga was the dominant partner in the opening partnership of 40, with 30 runs being scored by him. Tim Southee got the breakthrough for the Kiwis as Tharanga was caught at point by an amazingly athletic Jesse Ryder. Once Tharanga was dismissed, Dilshan started scoring and with Sangakkara eased the pressure with sensible batting. The partnership raised 120 runs and Sri Lanka appeared to be coasting to another thumping win when the famous Kiwi fightback happened.

Dilshan was the first victim of the fightback as he hit a ball straight to Ryder in the 33rd over. In the next over, Mahela Jayawardene was trapped in front of the crease by Vettori. The pressure got on Sangakkara as he uppercut Andy McKay to the fielder at third man. 160/1 had become 168/4 and suddenly the Kiwis sensed that they might be able to pull off something similar to what they did against South Africa the other night. Their cause was helped by some poor defensive batting by Chamara Silva and Thilan Samaraweera until a message came from the dressing room that this was one-day cricket, not test cricket.

The message seemed to have worked as Silva hit successive fours off Ryder before he too was dismissed inside edging a delivery from Tim Southee on to the stumps. Angelo Mathews and Samaraweera negotiated a few tricky overs before Mathews decided it was time to finish things off. He hit Southee for an on driven six and then hit another four over the bowler’s head to bring the equation down to 4 from 18 balls. The win was duly achieved in the 48th over when Samaraweera edged between the wicket keeper and a widish slip fielder for four runs. Sri Lanka were in the final, their second successive one.

New Zealand will be disappointed that their batsmen could not score 235 after being in a position to do so. The failure to bat the full 50 overs meant that the total of 217 would be inadequate. Their bowling was lion-hearted as always and one more wicket during the Sri Lankan wobble would probably have given them an opening to target the tail. But that was not to be and the Kiwis depart losing their sixth World Cup semi-final. It was a good performance for a team that had a bitter experience the last two times they visited the subcontinent. John Wright and Allan Donald are doing a good job mentoring this team and they need to be given a longer run to enable New Zealand to be a much better team.

Sri Lanka were lucky that they did not lose another wicket during the middle order collapse. However, the Sri Lankan think tank should be serious about their lower middle order, which is very brittle. They cannot afford a similar collapse in the final. In any case, Chamara Kapugedera is a far better choice than Chamara Silva. The bowling was excellent and the spinners once again came to the party. The final will be a big game for Sri Lanka and they will hope to win the World Cup again after a gap of 15 years. Muralitharan would love to go out on a high and his team members would love to play well and win the cup for their talismanic bowler.

Sri Lanka should go through while India vs. Pakistan is too close to call

The first of the semi-finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup is scheduled to be held later today at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. Sri Lanka are clear favorites to win the encounter against New Zealand. This is a repeat of the first semi-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 when Sri Lanka had won by 81 runs powered by Mahela Jayawardene’s magnificent hundred.

Sri Lanka have a strong bowling attack with the spinners doing the bulk of the job. The spinners and the seamers complement each other well. Muralitharan, Mendis and Herath could be a handful for the weak Kiwi batting. With Malinga’s toe crushing yorkers to be dealt with in the end overs, it is likely to be more than a handful! The only concern for Sri Lanka in bowling is the fitness of Muralitharan. If Murali does not play the semi-final, Nuwan Kulasekara could come in, although the big all-rounder Thisara Perera could come in handy. The spinners can be expected to bowl 60-80% of the overs and pick up a few wickets to put pressure on New Zealand. As far as the batting is concerned, there is no concern on the opening pair. Following the openers are the most experienced Sri Lankan batsmen – Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. The rest of the batting does not have the experience or the tenacity to survive an all out attack from the Kiwi bowlers.

New Zealand have a good bowling attack and a great fielding unit. The bowlers can be expected to stick to the basics and not give any room for the Sri Lankan batsmen to attack. Exerting pressure and taking wickets will be their ploy. It remains to be seen whether Kyle Mills plays. If he does not, will New Zealand stick to the same side that beat South Africa at Mirpur? Luke Woodcock was not quite impressive against the Proteas but can be good on the slower surface at Colombo. Daryl Tuffey might also be given a look in. With the fielders having an advantage over their Lankan counterparts, the catches will be a key factor in deciding the winner. The batsmen have to come really good as they face one of the world’s most potent bowling attacks. Ross Taylor will be the fulcrum in New Zealand’s batting efforts and the other batsmen will do well to play around him.

If the same pitch as the one used for the quarter final is used for this match, we can expect a slow pitch with not much runs. One would reckon 225-230 as a match winning score. It will be a tricky decision whether to bat or bowl first on winning the toss. New Zealand would probably bat first on winning the toss and Sri Lanka would probably ask the Kiwis to bat first if they won the toss. The weather is expected to be fair. An advantage for the winner will be that they have prior experience of having played at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai – the venue for the final. This should hold them in good stead against their opponents in the final. Sri Lanka have a 70-30 chance of going through to the final.

The second semi-final on Wednesday will be the match that millions of people are waiting for. India and Pakistan, for the first time, meet in a World Cup semifinal. The match, to be held at the PCA Stadium in Mohali, has already drawn attention for the cricket diplomacy between the Governments of the two countries. India’s record against Pakistan in one-day World Cups is envious – they have played each other four times and each time India have come on top. India’s record against Pakistan at Mohali is not so encouraging – they have played two and lost both – by a margin of 7 wickets in 1999 and 4 wickets in 2007.

India needs to be sharp with their bowling. The seamers and spinners will have to tighten the line and length and put excruciating pressure on the vulnerable Pakistan batting line up. India will look up to Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh to lead the bowling exemplarily. The bowling composition will likely be the same that did duties against Australia although the pitch at Mohali might prompt Dhoni to go with three seamers and a spinner. Ashish Nehra is likely to get the nod in such a scenario. The batsmen pick themselves. Suresh Raina will hold to his place after his match winning partnership with Yuvraj Singh against Australia. The worry is the batting Powerplay and India would do well to have one of the openers bat through the full 50 overs to counter any collapse during this phase. The batsmen will have to be very agile against Umar Gul and Shahid Afridi, the most threatening of the Pakistan bowlers. Also, they will have to watch out for Abdul Razzaq with the new ball in the 35th over. He is quite dangerous as he proved in the last couple of matches.

Pakistan’s strength clearly lies in bowling. Umar Gul, Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Hafeez, Abdur Rehman, Saeed Ajmal, Abdul Razzaq all are in good form and among the wickets. With the kind of bowling attack they have at their disposal, any batting line up could go for a toss. Pakistan will be banking on this factor to win the encounter. They will be toying with the idea of playing Shoaib Akhtar who can unsettle the Indian batsmen with his pace. The batsmen will need to deliver, though. In a pressure match, their batting can come apart and they need to guard against self destruction. They have done the right thing by having Kamran Akmal open the batting. Against India, it would not be a bad idea to have Younis Khan come in at No.3 because if the openers depart early there will be too much pressure on the young Asad Shafiq.

The pitch will be good for batting but there will be assistance for the seamers especially at night. The dew will also be a factor and teams would like to chase if they win the toss. India need to be careful if they are chasing because there are better exponents of swing in the Pakistan camp and loss of early wickets can hamper their progress, especially if Pakistan score in the range of 270-280. Pakistan too, would be wary of chasing as early wickets can put tremendous pressure especially when their batting is not as strong as the Indian line up. The battle will be between the Indian batsmen and the Pakistan bowlers. Both sides will be equally pumped up to perform in front of their Premiers who will be at the stadium to watch the match. Predicting the winner is tough and the match is too close to call.

Sri Lanka in last four with thumping win

England, after six consecutive close encounters, came a cropper in their seventh encounter – the last quarter final of the ICC Cricket World Cup – against Sri Lanka at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. The nature of Sri Lanka’s win was so emphatic it appeared the Englishmen were in a hurry to go home rather than put up any semblance of a fight against their opponents. Sri Lanka will now take on New Zealand in a repeat of the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup semi final.

The English captain Andrew Strauss won the toss and decided to bat first. It was a poor decision. It was evident Strauss was not thinking clearly. On a day when rain was forecast, it would have made sense to bat second. It was another matter that the rains stayed away. Also, the pitch at the ground has altered its pattern of favoring the team batting first and chasing under lights is far easier as evidenced by the last few matches. England made no change to its side that beat West Indies at Chennai while Sri Lanka made a bold move to include three specialist spinners.

The start was not ideal for England – Bell, opening the batting, was solid but Strauss was not so. Strauss struggled against the spin of Tillakaratne Dilshan and repeatedly came down the track put failed to get to the pitch of the ball each time. His struggles finally ended when he tried to pull Dilshan, missed and saw his stumps in disarray. The ball had kept a trifle low as well. Bell threw his wicket away in the next over as he attempted to glide Angelo Mathews but Samaraweera at midwicket pounced on the chance.

Jonathan Trott, England’s most consistent batsman in the last 12 months, and Ravi Bopara ensured no further problems for a while with dour batting. Both did not take the attack heads on but chose to play risk free cricket taking the singles and moving the scoreboard along. It was a bad ploy as the run rate suffered but they were probably trying to accelerate towards the end. Bopara fell after the partnership had added 64 runs in 18 overs. He was trapped in front by a Muthiah Muralitharan delivery that pitched on leg and held its line. When Eoin Morgan joined Trott at the crease, the innings sprang to life.

Morgan made a concerted effort to up the scoring rate and one thought England would take the batting Powerplay in the 35th over. The reason for this was that in the five overs preceding the 35th over, Trott and Morgan had added 34 runs and this was the perfect opportunity for a further assault. But they did not take the Powerplay as soon as the ball was changed. This was the second strategic mistake that England made. Trott meanwhile reached his fifty as always expected of him. The only problem with his batting is that he consumes a lot of deliveries in the process.

As Trott and Morgan prospered, the pressure got to Sri Lanka and they started being sloppy in the field. Three catches off Morgan were dropped and Muralitharan, the bowler to suffer on two occasions, was livid at Rangana Herath when he dropped the third chance. It was a sign that Sri Lanka were concerned but England appeared to make no notice of this. At the end of the 40th over, England were 173/3 with the batting Powerplay yet to be taken. The overs 30-40 had yielded 61 runs and England were ready to go for the kill.

England finally took the batting Powerplay in the 43rd over and Morgan soon reached his fifty in the third ball of the over but broke his bat and had to replace it. That proved unlucky as he tried to hit a full delivery from Lasith Malinga over cover but Mathews made no mistake this time. Graeme Swann was sent in ahead of Matt Prior. He lasted just one ball as he tried to reverse sweep Mendis and was trapped plumb in front of the wicket. It was a poor decision by England to send him in and the third mistake of the afternoon.

The Powerplay yielded just 23 runs for the loss of two wickets for England as Malinga and Mendis tied things up beautifully. Trott was dismissed in the 49th over as a sweep off Muralitharan found the top edge and travelled straight to the fielder at deep square leg. Though Prior hit a couple of fours, England could only finish at 229/6 – a below par score. Sri Lanka had come back admirably into the match and the crowd was on its feet now.

The Sri Lankan opening batsmen – Upul Tharanga and Dilshan – have been the most prolific of all the opening batting pair this tournament. On this night, they showed why. Both of them complemented each other so well and Sri Lanka started aggressively towards the target. Tharanga even lofted Swann straight down the ground for a six. The England bowlers were clueless on how to contain the batsmen and only Chris Tremlett and Ravi Bopara were treated with respect. The pair reached their 100 stand in the 19th over. Dilshan reached his half century in the 21st over while Tharanga reached his in the 22nd over.

The bowling Powerplay, which had been delayed by Strauss, was taken in the 30th over, and this was a cue for Sri Lanka to shift gears a higher notch. 40 runs came in five overs and Sri Lanka were in cruise mode now. Tharanga and Dilshan raised their 200 stand in the 36th over and this was followed by Dilshan reaching his century in the 37th over. As Sri Lanka closed in on the win, the only interest that remained was whether Tharanga too would get his hundred. He did, scoring the match winning runs in the process as well, in the 40th over. Sri Lanka had won by 10 wickets and marched into the semi-finals in style.

England, who did not deserve to be in the quarter finals, will be dejected by their performance in this tournament. They were never really the force that they used to be during the Ashes campaign and injuries to key players blighted their efforts. Five months on the road was too much for some of the players, especially James Anderson. They return home, unable to win the World Cup yet again. But they have some fine players and the English Cricket Board would do well to schedule the team’s commitments in a more humane way. A grueling Ashes campaign is not an ideal preparation for the World Cup.

Sri Lanka has been one of the most consistent teams in the tournament and they have thoroughly deserved their place in the last four. They have hardly any worries going into the semi finals although a session or two of fielding practice would be good ahead of their semi final against New Zealand on Tuesday. Dilshan and Tharanga are really going well and one only hopes that they have not peaked too soon. New Zealand will be wary of this Sri Lankan outfit and will need to come out with all their guns blazing if they are to overcome them in front of a partisan Colombo crowd.

Fortune refuses to smile on South Africa yet again

There is something about South African cricket that prevents them from winning major tournaments. Are they jinxed? One would think so after a disastrous batting collapse pushed them to a heart breaking defeat at the hands of New Zealand in the third quarter final of the ICC Cricket World Cup at Mirpur. They literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and once again return home empty handed. It was a sad story, really.

A target of 222 was supposed to be easy for the South African batsmen. It appeared so despite the loss of an early wicket in Hashim Amla. Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis carried them towards the target with a partnership of 61 runs for the second wicket. Even when they lost Smith, Kallis and AB De Villiers maintained the momentum and the required rate was hardly a threat. Disaster struck in the 25th over. Kallis fell to a wonderful athletic catch from Jacob Oram and then JP Duminy played all over a Nathan McCullum delivery to lose his stumps. Two balls later, when Faf Du Plessis was responsible for the run out of the well set De Villiers, the sluice gates were open and New Zealand capitalized, dismissing the Proteas for 172 to record victory by 49 runs. Oram was the pick of the bowlers with 4/39 and was ably supported by Nathan McCullum with 3/24.

Earlier, a disciplined South African bowling at the beginning and end ensured the Kiwis could only muster 221/8 in their 50 overs. Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum departed by the time the score was 16 and it required an excellent partnership of 114 runs in 162 balls between Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder to restore balance in the contest. Both realized that patience was a necessary virtue to bat on the kind of surface Mirpur had. They started slowly, seeing off the good balls and getting used to the pace of the wicket, which was slow. They accelerated when the bad balls were thrown in and the partnership blossomed and threatened an explosive finish similar to the one against Pakistan.

However, to their credit, the South African bowlers bounced back and suddenly it appeared that even 200 would not be possible. Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir and Dale Steyn bowled the last 10 overs with such intensity that runs were hard to come by and the wickets fell at regular intervals. In this context, Kane Williamson’s unbeaten innings of 38 in 41 balls was invaluable. He is not your hard hitting batsman but is more in the traditional mould. He lived up to the adage – when the going gets tough, the tough get going. However, 221 was inadequate, one thought at the innings break. But Jacob Oram and his fellow Kiwi bowlers had other ideas on this night.

South Africa did hardly anything wrong in this match except when the pressure mounted at the fall of Kallis and Duminy. Their bowling was disciplined and penetrative as ever and their batting was solid during the phase when Kallis and De Villiers were batting. It was the lower middle order that did not fire and though Du Plessis tried his best, it was not enough. After a string of good performances in the league stages, they were developing into favorites to win the title. They had a refreshingly new attitude highlighted by Imran Tahir, the first attacking spinner to play for South Africa. Time will, hopefully, heal the wounds of this painful defeat and they will return in 2015 to start from scratch and hope to break the jinx.

New Zealand will be surprised with the way they won tonight but all credit to their fighting spirit. They never shed their belief and a tight bowling and fielding effort helped them to snatch the life out of the South African batsmen. Jacob Oram reinvented himself with today’s bowling effort and this should rub off on his batting in the semi-final. It has not been a consistent tournament for the Kiwis with only a win against Pakistan something to talk about. But things will be different from now on. Brimming with confidence, they now travel to Colombo where they will meet either Sri Lanka or England for a place in the final of a tournament they too have never won.

Another Yuvraj show helps India overcome Australia

India reached the semi-finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup defeating the defending champions Australia in a closely fought quarter final at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera, Ahmedabad. In an uncanny similarity, in 1996 too, India had upset the applecart of the then defending champions Pakistan to reach the semi-final. Once again it was Yuvraj Singh, who continued his fine form of the tournament, who set up the win for India who will now meet arch-rivals Pakistan for a place in the final.

Australia won the toss and decided to bat first on a pitch that was dry but had patches of brown in it. India brought in Virender Sehwag into the team while Yusuf Pathan was dropped. Australia dropped Steven Smith and brought in David Hussey into the playing eleven. Shane Watson and Brad Haddin provided a steady start as India attacked with the off-spinner R Ashwin. After a silent two overs, Watson slog swept Ashwin to the boundary at deep midwicket. Watson found boundaries in the next three overs as the run rate increased. Haddin too joined the party in the 7th over as he hit Ashwin for a six over long on, hitting the ball remarkably with the spin of the ball. Australia, however, lost their first wicket in the 10th over as Watson tried to sweep Ashwin, missed and was bowled.

The out of form Ricky Ponting joined Haddin at the crease. Haddin showed aggressive intent as he hit three fours off a Munaf Patel over. Ricky Ponting was not in form but he was determined as ever and hit two fours in one Yuvraj Singh over for his first boundaries of the day. The runs flowed at a healthy pace and Haddin reached his fifty in the 22nd over with a boundary to midwicket. But he fell in the next over as a cover drive off a flighted delivery from Yuvraj was in the air enough for Suresh Raina to take a low catch. Ponting and Clarke carried on well till Clarke played a poor shot off Yuvraj that landed safely in the hands of Zaheer Khan. One wicket led to another as Mike Hussey was foxed by the new variety of slower ball that Zaheer has mastered. Australia had slipped to 150/4.

Ponting had meanwhile reached his fifty and was proving difficult to dislodge. He was slowly getting his groove back and the partnership with Cameron White, another man struggling for form, put Australia back in the game. Ponting struck a six in the 39th over off Yuvraj Singh and followed that up with a four to third man off the last ball of Yuvraj’s spell. Just as the partnership assumed threatening proportions, White popped a ball back to Zaheer who accepted the chance. David Hussey however supported Ponting in a bid to ensure a competitive total and started with a boundary to short fine leg. The batting Powerplay was taken in the 44th over.

The run rate started its climb up as Hussey launched Ashwin over long on for a six and in the same over Ponting got a well deserved century. This had taken a long time in coming and was due to the sheer determination and character of the man who is one of the greats in cricket. He was dismissed soon, though, as he attempted a reverse sweep off Ashwin but could not get past the fielder at short third man. This bogged down the run rate a bit as the Aussies were unable to find another boundary and ended their quota at 260/6 – a competitive total considering the fact that the ball was stopping a bit and the pitch afforded appreciable turn for the spinners.

India started their reply in the usual bustling fashion as Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar scored off pacy deliveries from Brett Lee and Shaun Tait. Sehwag was not at all comfortable at the crease, probably because of his troublesome knee, and was dismissed off a bouncer that he could pull only to the fielder at square leg. Tendulkar and Gambhir cantered along at a steady pace punishing the bad balls every now and then and ensuring that the required rate stayed at reasonable levels.

Tendulkar reached his half-century in the 17th over and was playing so well that the crowd was anticipating his 100th international century. Sadly, that had to wait another day as Tait fired in a good length ball that the batsman could only poke to the wicket keeper Brad Haddin. The Gambhir – Kohli partnership could not score many boundaries but the pair kept taking the singles on offer. Kohli threw his wicket away in the 29th over as he hit a full toss from David Hussey straight to the fielder stationed at midwicket.

When Gambhir ran himself out in the 34th over soon after reaching his fifty and Dhoni cut Lee to Clarke at point four overs later, India had stumbled to 187/5 with Yuvraj and Raina the last recognized batting pair. The pair, however, carried on admirably under pressure. 14 runs came in the 40th over that considerably reduced the gap between balls remaining and runs remaining. Yuvraj was batting sensationally and reached his fifty in the 45th over. There really was nothing that could stop him, such was his confidence. Raina was not to fall behind as he started the batting Powerplay with a big six over long on. From then, it was only a matter of when India would win. Yuvraj scored the winning runs in the 48th over with a cover drive that went for four. Fittingly, he was adjudged the man of the match.

Australia fought really hard on the day but Yuvraj had other ideas. One day or the other, Australia’s reign in the World Cup was bound to end. All is not lost for them. They have a fine side, one that needs a little more experience to find the dominating ways of their predecessors. Ponting’s determined hundred was enough to silence his critics and with that little finger healing, he should be scoring more runs for Australia. With a lot of young talent waiting in the wings, they will look forward to the World Cup in 2015, which will be held in Australia, with hope.

India’s bowling was better today, just enough to restrict Australia to 260. Had they conceded 20 more runs, it would have been very difficult. The sad part is only Zaheer, Ashwin and Yuvraj are among the wickets. The batting nearly committed suicide, but thanks to Yuvraj and Raina, India now find themselves in a dream semi-final against Pakistan at Mohali next Wednesday. It is going to be a tough game, no doubt, with Pakistan in such fine form. When two teams who increase the level of their game manifold when they meet each other, play the semi-finals of the most cherished silverware in one-day international cricket, fireworks are assured. Two of the most inconsistent teams in the world battling it out for a place in the final – who will blink first?

Pakistan makes strong statement with punishing win

Pakistan marched into the semi-finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup with a surprisingly easy and commanding win over a poor West Indies. With this punishing win, Pakistan has made a strong statement to other teams that they better beware of this side with immense potential. The quarter final encounter turned out to be a poor mismatch.

West Indies skipper Darren Sammy won the toss and decided to bat first at Mirpur. Surprisingly, they left out Andre Russell and brought in Shivnarine Chanderpaul thus affecting the balance of the team. It was another matter that without Chanderpaul, West Indies would not have crossed 100 runs. Kemar Roach and Chris Gayle returned as well. Pakistan brought in off spinner Saeed Ajmal and dropped Abdur Rehman, a decision prompted by the left-handers in the West Indies side.

The start belied what was to follow. Off the first 16 balls, 14 runs were scored and then Pakistan took control of the proceedings. Umar Gul had Gayle play his trademark lofted shot but could only hit the ball straight to the fielder at mid on. Mohammad Hafeez, with the new ball, then struck twice in the 6th over. He had Devon Smith and Darren Bravo trapped in front of the wicket as they failed to play inside the line of the ball. 14/0 had become 16/3 in the space of the next 18 balls.

Ramnaresh Sarwan and Chanderpaul tried rebuilding the innings, but the runs were hard to come as Hafeez choked one end with his spinners. The batsmen played as though this was Test match cricket and there was no concerted effort to increase the run rate. In the 25th over, Afridi got a ball to bounce more than Sarwan expected and he ended up slashing it to Umar Akmal at point. Two overs later, he had Kieron Pollard edge to Kamran Akmal and off the very next ball had Devon Thomas trapped in front. Afridi did not get a hat-trick though as a leading edge of Sammy went to no man’s land.

Saeed Ajmal too got into the act as he had Sammy trapped in front with the wrong ‘un and in the same over had Devendra Bishoo bowled with another wrong ‘un. 71/8 in the 28th over and the match was headed for an early finish. Kemar Roach provided admirable support to Chanderpaul for the next few overs as West Indies reached 100 in the 37th over of the innings. Roach was dismissed in the 43rd over as he went for a big shot but could not get past Younis Khan at midwicket. It was all over in the next over as Ravi Rampaul missed a sweep off Afridi and was castled. 112 all out in 43.3 overs in an important quarter final was grossly inadequate by any standards.

Pakistan started the chase desperate to finish things off early. Both the batsmen went for their shots and the runs came flowing. Hafeez’s confident bowling rubbed off on his batting as well as he dominated the opening partnership with Kamran Akmal. He got to a well made fifty in the 18th over as Pakistan closed in on the win. They won in the 21st over when Akmal struck a boundary in front of square on the off side. They had all their 10 wickets intact when the victory came. What an emphatic win!

West Indies played pathetically on the day and couldn’t come to terms with some quality spin bowling unleashed by Pakistan. If only they had someone to break the shackles when the spinners were operating and give able support to the obdurate Chanderpaul, things might have been different. Questions will be asked of this team when they reach home and some heads might roll as well. For a while in this tournament, against Netherlands, Bangladesh and Ireland, they seemed to have reinvented themselves but their batting collapses against England and India made them a confused side which led to the shocking capitulation today.

Pakistan will take huge doses of confidence from this big win which follows on the heels of their win against Australia. The form of their openers was a big plus for them in this match besides their bowling which has been sharp in this tournament save against New Zealand. They will be prepared for whoever meets them in the second semi-final at Mohali on March 30. Whether it’s India or Australia, they will be pumped up.

Exciting quarter final matches in store

With the league encounters of the ICC Cricket World Cup complete, teams enter the knock out stage where each match is a do-or-die affair. Teams realize that they need to win only three more matches to covet the title of world champions. This is easier said than done as the matches will only get tougher from now on and the team that can handle the pressure well will earn the title of world champion on Saturday, April 2 at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.

The first of the quarter finals is between Pakistan and West Indies at Mirpur on Wednesday. Pakistan will be confident after their win over Australia but needs to guard against complacency. An inconsistent performance cannot be ruled out given Pakistan’s track record. They should retain the same eleven that won against Australia. West Indies will return to a venue of which they have fond memories as it was in Mirpur that their campaign really took wings skittling out Bangladesh for just 58. With Kemar Roach and Chris Gayle back for the crucial match, their batting and bowling should be further strengthened. Ramnaresh Sarwan should make way for Shivnarine Chanderpaul to strengthen the batting which collapsed in two successive matches. It’s a 50-50 chance for both teams but I will put my money on West Indies simply because Pakistan cannot be depended upon.

The second last eight match will be played between India and Australia at Motera in Ahmedabad. India had won the warm up match between the two teams before the World Cup started but that was on a pitch that turned square, an unlikely surface for Thursday’s match. India, like Pakistan, have been inconsistent, and will have to show drastic improvements in all the three departments to put it across Australia. The pitch is expected to be a batting paradise and India would probably retain the same eleven that won against West Indies. Australia have batting worries of their own but a big match should bring the best out of their batsmen. It would not be a bad idea to promote Mitchell Johnson up the order for some quick runs. Ponting needs to consider all options when deciding on his bowlers and should not shy from using part timers in a bid to take wickets. In a bid to bounce the Indians out, they might leave out Steven Smith and bring in seamer John Hastings. Australia holds the slight upper hand and have a chance of 55-45 in the match only because their bowling is much stronger when compared to the Indian bowling.

South Africa and New Zealand square up in Mirpur on Friday. It remains to be seen whether the same pitch as the one to be used for the first quarter final will be used for this game as well. That will make a big difference to the team composition. One other factor is the weather – it is likely to rain in the evening in Mirpur. South Africa should prevail comfortably. Having said that, New Zealand should not be taken lightly. They had a poor subcontinent series before the World Cup and are slowly picking up the pieces. With Daniel Vettori and Kyle Mills expected to be back, they will be that much better off. The batting revolves around the openers and Ross Taylor and it is imperative that they come good. South Africa have little worries and the return of AB De Villiers should be a big boost. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel would be fresh after a good period of rest. South Africa have a 70-30 chance of winning.

The final quarter final will be between Sri Lanka and the enigmatic England. Given how England entered the quarter finals, Sri Lanka should have a comfortable game. Their spinners should be able to choke the English batsmen out of the game like Bangladesh did. England will likely retain the same side that defeated West Indies in their previous game. They will need to be consistent in their games from now on. Sri Lanka will toy with the idea of playing Chamara Kapugedera instead of Chamara Silva. They will need to ensure that their lower middle order fires. The weather could be a factor in this match as well as rain has been forecast for Saturday. Sri Lanka have a 60-40 chance of winning even though the R Premadasa Stadium is not one of their happy hunting grounds. I would not rule out another thriller as well as England is one of the teams!

Whatever the result, we should have the best teams in the semi finals. The matches are expected to be crackers and the crowd as well as the TV audience should get to watch some great contests. With the business end of the tournament approaching, teams should be focused and raring to go.

West Indies commits hara-kiri as India record comfortable win

The final round robin encounter of the ICC Cricket World Cup was a fixture to determine who would finish second and third in Group B. The pitch at the M A Chidambaram Stadium at Chennai was the cynosure of all eyes. In the end two batting collapses were the talking point as India defeated West Indies by a comfortable margin of 80 runs. India will now play defending champions Australia in the last eight while West Indies face formidable Pakistan.

The toss was crucial and was won by India who decided to bat first. With Sehwag absent, Gautam Gambhir reverted to opening the batting with maestro Sachin Tendulkar. The start was bad – Tendulkar got glove to a short delivery from Ravi Rampaul but despite the umpire’s decision of not out, walked. Gambhir and Kohli attacked Sulieman Benn but the run rate was not as heady as in the games against Bangladesh, England or South Africa.

Gambhir was the next to go as he made room and slashed a short delivery straight to the fielder at third man. This brought the in-form Yuvraj Singh to the crease and thus began the most productive phase of the Indian innings. Strike rotation meant singles and twos were the order of the day but there were some delightful boundaries as well. In the 21st over, Yuvraj on drove Darren Sammy for a six over long on and then swept Devendra Bishoo for a four. Yuvraj reached his fifty in the 26th over with two fours off Bishoo while Kohli followed suit in the 29th over with a boundary over midwicket. The batsmen were well set for acceleration in the last 20 overs.

Rampaul was brought back into the attack as West Indies searched for wickets. In the second over of his new spell, Rampaul had Kohli play a pull shot but the ball beat the bat and upset the stumps. It was a vital wicket in the scheme of things for West Indies. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni joined Yuvraj who was now looking good for a century. He duly reached it in the 41st over and India were comfortably placed for a 300 plus total when the now familiar great Indian middle order batting collapse happened.

Bishoo started the slump when he beat Dhoni with a flighted delivery and wicket keeper Devon Thomas completed the stumping. The last seven wickets fell for just 50 runs as India were bowled out for 268 in the first ball of the 50th over. Rampaul picked up his first five-wicket haul in one-day cricket and finished with impressive figures of 5/51. At the break, West Indies fancied their chances even as they realized that they did not have Chris Gayle to lead the chase.

The chase started off slowly as India attacked one end with local boy R Ashwin first and then Harbhajan later. Devon Smith was unflappable as ever and a straight drive for four off Zaheer Khan was a delight to watch. Kirk Edwards, the debutant opener, showed no nerves as he came down the track to loft Harbhajan over the long off boundary for a six. However, Ashwin got the breakthrough for India as he got a ball to pitch on leg, straighten and rap the batsman on the pads in front of middle and leg. Darren Bravo put on a good partnership with Smith who was growing stronger by each minute that he spent at the crease.

Bravo showed glimpses of Brian Lara as he hit a six over long off of Ashwin and followed that up with a ferocious cut shot that sped for four more. Just as the partnership had crossed 50 and was looking good for more, Bravo made a big mess of a short ball from Suresh Raina. That ball was asking to be hit for a six but Bravo made a poor choice by lofting it towards long on where the fielder gleefully accepted the chance. Ramnaresh Sarwan, badly in need of some runs, was the next man in and West Indies calmly chipped away at the target with Smith reaching a well played fifty in the 19th over.

The Indian fielding was now looking weary and was exemplified by Munaf Patel making no attempt to stop a cut shot from Sarwan that was heading to the boundary. Smith accelerated by hitting Yuvraj down the ground for his first six. This partnership too raised fifty runs and at the end of the 30th over West Indies were cruising at 154/2. Zaheer Khan was brought back into the attack and quickly had Smith bowled with a new kind of slower ball that he has mastered. This was followed by Kieron Pollard hitting straight to the fielder at long on in the next over. It was an unnecessary shot at the time and the whole team was dismissed for 188 in the 43rd over. The last eight wickets had fallen for just 34 runs in 13 overs.

For the second time in as many matches, West Indies had the chase on a platter and threw it away with some senseless batting. The pitch was still good and had many more runs in it. The batting collapses of the last two games should be a worry for Darren Sammy as they go to Mirpur to play a strong Pakistan team in the quarter finals. The bowlers did a commendable job in the absence of Kemar Roach and the batting looked solid until that collapse. It would not be a bad idea to bring back Shivnarine Chanderpaul for the next game as he can hold one end up.

India need not rejoice too much at this win. They won only because some of the West Indies batsmen were senseless. With the exception of Zaheer, the bowling looks tardy. The bowlers have failed to get those early breakthroughs which are very crucial. The batsmen should spend long hours in the sun as repeated batting collapses from strong positions cannot be excused. Against the world champions in the quarter finals, the team will have to up their game in all the three departments to entertain any hopes of winning.

All-round Zimbabwe puts its across Kenya

In a match-up between eliminated teams, Zimbabwe put up a strong all-round display to defeat Kenya by 161 runs at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in their final fixture of the ICC Cricket World Cup. Zimbabwe ended with its second win of the tournament while Kenya return home winless.

Elton Chigumbura, the Zimbabwe skipper, won the toss and decided to bat first. Kenya were being led by Steve Tikolo, who was playing his final match before retirement from the game. Brendan Taylor and Regis Chakabva started slowly but steadily for Zimbabwe before both the batsmen were dismissed in successive overs. Vusi Sibanda and Tatenda Taibu took on the responsibilities from the 10th over.

The partnership frustrated the Kenyan bowlers as both the batsmen rotated the strike well and even picked up boundaries every now and then. In the 28th over, the pair decided it was time to attack and 15 runs were scored with two fours for Taibu and a six that also raised his fifty for Sibanda. The next over fetched another 10 runs with Sibanda getting two more boundaries. A poor mix up between the two, however, resulted in Sibanda being run out in the 30th over.

Craig Ervine and Taibu sauntered along at close to a run a ball before Taibu fell as he tried to reverse sweep James Ngoche but missed the ball and was trapped in front. Ervine was joined by his captain Chigumbura and the partnership was responsible for Zimbabwe getting more than 300. Chigumbura was unsure early on in his innings while Ervine, as always, found the gaps. Chigumbura got his confidence back with a six over long off in the 41st over. Ervine reached a superb fifty in the 45th over with a four and followed that up with another and Zimbabwe crossed 250. Chigumbura was dismissed in the 47th over as Tanmay Mishra judged a catch to perfection just in front of the boundary ropes.

Greg Lamb is known for his defensive batting but today was different. He along with Prosper Utseya, who had come in at the fall of Ervine’s wicket in the 48th over, played cameo knocks towards the end of the innings. Utseya was particularly severe on Elijah Otieno who bowled the 50th over and carted him for three fours and a six in the first four balls. Zimbabwe were happy with a total of 308/6 in 50 overs.

Kenya needed to bat well like they did against Australia to have any chance of overhauling Zimbabwe’s total. However, they got off to a poor start as the Obuya brothers were dismissed by the 4th over with hardly any runs on the board. Steve Tikolo played a couple of lovely flicks in his last innings but was trapped in front by Ray Price. Tanmay Mishra and Alex Obanda were dismissed in the space of an over to leave Kenya in deep trouble at 44/5 in the 12th over. Only obdurate batting from Thomas Odoyo, Rakep Patel and Nehemiah Odhiambo ensured Kenya crossed 100. Odhiambo was the top scorer with an unbeaten 44 as Kenya were dismissed for 147 in the 36th over. The Zimbabwe spinners picked up 8 wickets for just 116 runs in 30 overs to leave the Kenyans in disarray.

Zimbabwe will take positives from this World Cup. They have a young team with a lot of potential. Their batting is a bit inconsistent but they will learn from playing more matches. Their spinners were outstanding except in the matches against Sri Lanka and New Zealand. Kenya failed to win a match and have a lot to improve in all the departments of the game. More match practice is what these teams need for their cricketers to excel in the future.