Thursday, March 31, 2011

World Cup 2011 .... India vs Pakistan - 2nd Semifinal !!!

A billion sighs of relief must have pumped the late evening atmosphere, as the Men in Blue edged out the Men in Green to enter the finals of the ICC World Cup 2011. The match that was billed to be the mother of all contests, of course did not rise to dramatic proportions, as the quality of the game was mediocre, but the environment was electric & the presence of heavyweight politicians & popular faces added to the glitz & tension.
The bookies were holding India as firm favourites, but there seemed to be diplomatic pressures as well. The first one hour of the match gave rise to many speculations, of the match being fixed. When Dhoni dropped an inform Ashwin for Nehra, & chose to bat after winning the toss, eyebrows started to twitch. Sehwag & Sachin started in whirlwind fashion, & Pakistan's best bowler till date in the tournament, Umar Gul seem to lose his rhythm as he got plundered. Shewag took 21 runs from Gul in the 3rd over of the innings & vision of a total in excess of 300 looked imminent. Sachin escaped a vociferous LBW through UDRS & the very next delivery a near stumping chance, as he scratched for runs. At 114 for 1 in 18 overs, India looked set for a very big total, but Riaz brought Pakistan right back in the game by picking up two crucial wickets, getting Virat Kohli & Yuvi of successive deliveries & almost getting Dhoni out caught behind the very next ball. Meanwhile, Sachin kept enjoying lady luck's blessings as buttered fingered Pakistani fielders dropped him four times, at 27, 45, 70 & 81. It was bizarre, as if it was deal between Pakistan & India....." we will let Sachin get his 100th century & you let us win the match!!!" I guess, when Sachin finally got caught out by Afridi for a not so convincing 85, many Indians like me along with the whole of Pakistan heaved a sigh of relief. In the 2003 World Cup at South Africa, when India last met Pakistan, Sachin had mauled Pakistan with a brilliant 97, as opposed to today, when he looked rather patchy. The Indian innings stuttered & spluttered, & finally ended at 260 for 9, thanks to a late assault by Raina along with Bhajji & Zaheer, as everyone of us felt was a good 20-30 runs short. Wahab Riaz, picked by Afridi ahead of Shoaib Akhtar for this match, had responded well to his Captain's faith by picking up 5 wickets for 46 runs & restricting India. Gul was surprisingly smashed all over for 69 runs in 8 overs.

In reply Pakistan was sedate with Hafeez & Kamran Akaml staring the innings. However, Indians on the field held nerves better, as Pakistan collapsed in the run chase. All the bowlers, surprisingly bowled excellently & fielders were committed, & as the pressure kept mounting in the run chase, Dhoni was excellent with field placement & bowling changes. The very fact that India conceded the 1st extras only in the 37th over, reflects the commitment of the players in the field. In between, Umar Akmal was threatening to take the match away from India, hitting 2 sixes off Yuvi. With him at the crease, anything was possible, as Dhoni called Bhajji to bowl. The Turbunator immediately scalped Umar, & with that died Pakistani hopes of a resurgence. Finally Pakistan were bowled out for 231 in the last over of the match, as India celebrated victory by 29 runs. It was India's 5th consecutive win over Pakistan in the World Cup & 1st at Mohali. This also means the end of the road for Shoaib Akhtar, one of the World's best pacer of the modern era, as he has already announced his retirement from international cricket.
The streets of India all across, had thousands spilling out, shouting & ranting & drumming & rejoicing on the Indian victory against arch rivals Pakistan. It was as if we have already won the Cup !!!!

India are now in finals, & would meet Sri Lanka at Wankhade Stadium, Mumbai on 2nd April, Saturday. A final between Men in Blue of different shades !!! India has Sachin Tendulkar, the batsman with the most runs in cricket & Sri Lanka has Muttiah Muralitharan, the bowler with the most wickets in cricket, both at the twilight of their illustrious career, probably playing their last World Cup match.....What a contest on cards...a fitting finale !!!

Man of the Match : Sachin Tendulkar for his 85 runs with the bat. In my view he did not deserve this award, as he scratched for runs & was immensely lucky to get away with 4 missed catches & two close appeals.