The hype was there, the teams were there, the players were there, the prime ministers were there and so was the occasion, it was indeed, India VS Pakistan – the 2nd Semifinal of ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. With public frenzy and media scrutiny geared on, this sure promised to be a cracker of a contest.
Early in the day, Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the toss and chose to bat on what looked like a very unlike Mohali wicket. It was slow and sluggish, grass just enough to bind the surface together.
Shoaib Akhtar continued to warm the benches as Pakistan went in unchanged. India on the other hand, decided to tinker with their team, a winning combination, astonishing, indeed. Ashish Nehra was brought in, in place of Ravichandran Ashwin who must be cursing his stars, missing out on perhaps the biggest game of his life.
Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag were out there, doing what they do best for India; scoring runs and at a brisk rate. India looked to be marching on towards another 300 run score after a phenomenal start as the opening duo forged a healthy 48 before Sehwag was caught wanting playing across the line to Riaz, dismissed for 38.
Tendulkar and Gambhir then steadied things as Pakistan went on to drop a flurry of catches, Sachin looked a shadow of himself, failing to put away the bad deliveries, giving opportunities to the Pakistanis with every blink of the eye. He got lucky, and as all great players do, they might not be on top of their game all the time, but they scrap and scrap hard. Sachin was no different as the champion made a patient 85 being the rock behind India’s batting.
Mohammad Hafeez accounted for Gambhir as the south paw was deceived in the flight only to be stumped by Kamran Akmal. Wahab Riaz ensured Shoaib Ahktar would not be missed as he put on an impressive spell of fast bowling, using reverse swing to laudable effect. Riaz did for both, Kohli and the in form Yuvraj in a space of 2 balls sending shivers down the Indian dressing room. India were 141 for 4 at that stage and had succumbed the early initiative they had. Dhoni chipped in with a sluggish, albeit vital 25. But once again, the star of the show was Suresh Raina as his contribution along with the lower order propelled the Indian total to 260.
A defendable, but not a winning total. India had to let the scoreboard pressure build on Pakistan and so they did. Pakistan got off to a sedate start before Kamran Akmal slashed at one away from his body, and was caught at cover point, Yuvraj the catcher.
Hafeez, Asad Shafiq and Younis Khan built solid partnerships but it was the rate of their scoring that was huge cause for concern. Despite being a 100 odd for 2, Pakistan were behind the eight ball as far as runs were concerned and you knew, a couple of wickets and the pressure would be right back on the Pakistanis and so indeed was the case. Yuvraj and Harbhajan stifled the batsman with Misbah Ul Haq’s aid who seemed to have dug himself a hole. Misbah was unable to rotate the strike but stuck through and once Umar Akmal and Shahid Afridi were making their way back to the pavilion, Sri Lanka knew who they were playing.
Misbah picked up his scoring rate a little, but was a lone ranger as the pace trio of Munaf Patel, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan did a fabulous job in stifling the opposition.
A match that might not have quite gone down to the wire, but it was an enthralling one to say the least. The outcome of the match meant that people were dancing in the isles of India as they made their way to a 3rd final, looking formidable to bag the World cup en route giving the greatest cricketer of the modern era a perfect send off on his home ground.
We said it would be a perfect script if India and Sachin would get to the finals, well guess what, they did. Indeed, a Sachin 100, 100th international century will be an absolute treat to the 30000 people who turn up there. Let’s not forget Sri Lanka will be hoping to give the same to Muttiah Muralidaran who too, will call it quits come April 2nd.