It might not have been a classic cricket World Cup semi-final, but India did enough to beat arch-rivals Pakistan and set up a final with Sri Lanka on Saturday.
Sachin Tendulkar was dropped no fewer than four times and survived a close stumping appeal on his way to 85 before both teams’ middle orders rather lost their way – Wahab Riaz’s five-wicket haul inspiring a mini-collapse and Pakistan’s engine room failing to click into gear until the game was all but over.
India-Pakistan clashes are typically nervy affairs and this one proved to be no exception. Umar Gul, usually reliable, lost his line and length early on and was savaged by Virender Sehwag, who in turn inexplicably missed a straight ball.
Younus Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq – two of Pakistan’s most experienced cricketers, and two who usually save their best for matches against India – then dropped simple chances to offer Tendulkar further chances.
He eventually fell 15 short of a century having played far from his best innings before Riaz rose to the occasion in style, returning five for 46 and picking the perfect stage to return a career-best performance.
His efforts, were in vain however, as despite a fast start from Kamran Akmal and Mohammad Hafeez, Pakistan fell away dramatically, and once Hafeez was dismissed – to an uncharacteristically bad shot – India were always likely to close out the game.
Yuvraj Singh registered just the second golden duck of his ODI career but struck twice with the ball in quick succession to further pin Pakistan down and the look of shock on Umar Akmal’s face when he was bowled by Harbhajan Singh left little to the imagination.
Pakistan were perhaps stunned by their own inability to cope with the situation of playing India in a World Cup (five times they have played, five times they have lost now) in front of 40,000 screaming fans in Mohali.
In the eyes of many Pakistan fans, Misbah is the main culprit for the defeat. His 56 in 76 balls was a valiant effort, but he hardly played an attacking stroke before the required run rate had shot up to 12 an over and he was left with the tail-enders.
In his defence, he would not be expected to take on the role of the aggressor while Akmal, Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq were at the crease. Their failures to go on and make big scores quickly merely increased the pressure on him.
Had he been unbeaten on 40 and one of those players had have smashed 50 in 35 balls then he would be a hero. Yesterday was India’s day and therefore Misbah was cast as villain.
Now India take on Sri Lanka on Saturday with both teams bidding for a second World Cup triumph and Mahendra Singh Dhoni looking to complete a full house – he has already led India to the number one spot in the Test rankings and the ICC World Twenty20 title in 2007, as well as guiding the Chennai Super Kings to both Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 glory.