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?