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.