India end Australia’s World Cup domination; face Pakistan in semis

By Abhishek Roy, IANS,

Ahmedabad : India ended Australia’s 12-year domination of the World Cup, scoring a thrilling five-wicket victory in the quarterfinal here Thursday to set-up a dream date with arch-rivals Pakistan in the semifinal at Mohali March 30.

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Chasing 261, India had a slight setback after a good start, but Yuvraj Singh (57) and Suresh Raina (34) held their nerves during their unbeaten 74-run stand to take the team safely across the finish line with 14 balls to spare. And the delirious crowd went into a huge celebration at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera.

Yuvraj collected his fourth Match of the Match award as he had picked up two wickets earlier in the day after Australia decided to bat first.

With the victory, India took revenge for their 2003 final loss as Australian captain Ricky Ponting’s gritty 118-ball 104 century, his 30th in ODIs, went in vain. It was Ponting’s second successive World Cup century against India, having hit a majestic 140 in the final eight years ago, but it couldn’t prevent his team from missing their first final since 1996.

More than Ponting’s century, the Motera crowd was eagerly expecting Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th international hundred. The wait, however, continues for Tendulkar, who hit a fine 53, and along with Gautam Gambhir (50) gave India a strong start.

India lost Virender Sehwag (15) early after he was surprised by a rising short one by Shane Watson in the ninth over. His attempted pull ended up in an easy catch by Mike Hussey at mid-wicket. The dismissal did not affect the momentum of the Indian innings and they were within the asking rate in the mandatory as well as bowling Powerplays.

Tendulkar got to his 18,000 runs when he scored his 45th run. Even Brett Lee’s fastest ball of the match at 157.1 km created little impression on the great man and he kept middling everything. He started stroking fluently and the dressing room must have started breathing easy.

Tendulkar reached his fifty off 61 balls, flicking Shaun Tait to mid-wicket for a brace. He was caught behind in the fiery paceman’s next over but the decision was delayed to check whether the delivery was legal as Tait’s back-foot cut the tram line and also oversteps in his stride. He narrowly got away and Tendulkar had to go.

Ponting introduced spin in the 18th over at 86 for one, bringing on off-spinner Jason Kreza and he got some turn if not the bounce. But he was innocuous. By the time he was brought back, the match had slipped out of Australia’s hands.

Gambhir was tentative to start with and under pressure as he got beaten by Lee. He battled on and finally came out of his shell by hitting Watson for a four over the covers. Once he started timing the ball, he looked more secure and the fifty looked for the asking.

Gambhir got his fifty but was then run out in a bizarre fashion. His poor running between the wickets yet again did him in. He twice escaped getting run out after mix-ups with Yuvraj and was not so lucky a third time.

The asking rate started mounting as captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (7), too, left failing to keep a square-cut down off Lee and was brilliantly caught by Clarke flinging to his right in the 38th over. This left India needing 74 runs from 12 overs.

Yuvraj and Raina restored the parity between runs and balls. The duo smashed the Australian bowlers for 33 runs in three overs from the 39th to the 41st and decisively swung the match in India’s favour in the batting Powerplay, taken in the 46th over. Lee bleeded 14 runs from the 40th over and a wayward Tait followed it up with 13 from the next over.

Raina welcomed Lee in the Powerplay with a six over long-on and in the next over, he smashed Johnson for a four. Yuvraj deservedly hit the winning runs, a four off Lee as the crowd broke into wild celebrations.

Earlier in the afternoon, the Indians did well to restrict the Australians to a score that looked par for the course even though they could not prevent Ponting from getting to form.

Ponting, who came in for heavy criticism for scoring just 102 runs in his last five innings, showed true grit and determination during his 118-ball 104, his 30th ODI hundred, to pull the four-time World champions out from a precarious 150 for four to a healthy 260 for six.

Ponting and David Hussey (38 not out) added a valuable 55 runs for the sixth wicket after India’s pace spearhead Zaheer (2-53) and Yuvraj (2-44) struck in tandem to wreck the middle-order. The Australians made the best use of the batting Powerplay (44th-48th overs), scoring 44 runs.

In an intense battle, Ponting and Zaheer tried hard to steal a march over the other. Ponting batted with assurance though he had curb his natural flair to go after the attack. There was grit and determination and he stayed till the 49th over.

More importantly, Ponting negotiated the spin of his old foe Harbhajan and picking fresh sensation Ashwin’s carrom ball skilfully. He did not go after Zaheer and treated Yuvraj with respect. This innings of his will stand out because it came at a time when he was not in the best of form.

He fell when he threw caution to the winds and, perhaps, for the first time, tried to reverse sweep Ashwin and gave a comfortable catch to Zaheer.