Belfast Telegraph

Cricket World Cup: India a class above bitter rivals

By Stephen Brenkley

Well, that’s the really important bit done and dusted. India must now somehow stir themselves for the inconsequential affair of the World Cup Final itself.

Amid much excitement but little matching drama, they defeated Pakistan last night in the semi-final and will face their fellow hosts, Sri Lanka on Sunday.

While it might be seen as destiny fulfilled if India win the competition for the second time, they would probably be forgiven if it does not work out.

The whole nation considered last night’s result a matter of honour. Defeat would have been a devastating blow to national pride.

Pakistan, the travelling troubadours of world cricket, will not face such outrage for once.

It would have been one of the wonders of the modern world had they somehow managed to prevail given their level in the rankings, the constant turmoil prevalent in the running of the game in their country, their status as pariahs who can’t play at home, and are pretty often suspected of sharp practice when they turn up.

It would be unfair to suggest that India’s win by 29 runs was never in doubt. Between innings there was considerable doubt among their supporters that the 260 for nine they managed from 50 overs was sufficient considering the high scoring reputation of the surface at the ground.

One innings of note from their opponents’ top five and it could soon be overhauled.

Had Pakistan not chased 322 to win here barely three years ago when Younis Khan, who was playing last night, had scored a silken hundred 117 from 110 balls?

But these are the fears that crowd in on supporters who desperately want to win. Pakistan were not in the mood for victory.

They shelled five catches, committing the huge whopper of dropping Sachin Tendulkar four times, which is like leaving all the doors and windows open in the house when the world’s best burglar is in the neighbourhood.

Sometime before the formal end of the tie, it was clear that India had the game in hand.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India’s captain, who showed rare glimpses of elation when Pakistani wickets fell, said: “We said before the tournament started that it was important to peak at the right time. Everyone in this side has been tested and I think we’re ready for it.”

The man of the match for the 62nd time in his career and the ninth in World Cup matches was the blessed Tendulkar.

He was put down on 27, 45, 70 and 81, all of them eminently catchable chances at mid-wicket (twice), extra cover and behind the wicket. In addition, he was reprieved twice before all that when, on 23, he was given out leg before to Saeed Ajmal, against whom he was dumbfounded throughout.

More in hope than expectation, since the ball looked to be going on to hit the stumps, he asked for a review and the replays showed the ball would have missed.

Two balls later he might have been stumped but the slow motion camera was not conclusive enough for a verdict to be upheld.

As a piece of sporting theatre the match could not possibly live up to its billing but it was perhaps more important that the feverishly anticipated event, which became a diplomatic exercise as much as a sporting contest, went off without trouble.

The security, intense by any standards, appeared to have worked.

Shahid Afridi, the defeated captain, said: “I would like to congratulate the Indian team and the Indian nation. They deserved their win. We played well in the competition and the boys did a great job. I want to say sorry to our people, we tried our level best.”

In the context of what was to come later the nine fours that Virender Sehwag struck so thun

derously in his 25 ball innings were vital. After 10 overs they meant India had reached 73 and as the pitch withdrew its favours it also allowed them to take stock.

Pakistan’s most successful bowler was Wahab Riag who took five for 46 with some smart changes of pace, slanting the ball across the right handers.

Just when it seemed India might be a little too shy of a decent target, Suresh Raina scored a bustling 36 from 39 balls at the end. It made the difference.

Pakistan started brightly but not at India’s pace.

Their highest partnership was for their first wicket and no pair stayed around long enough.

India might have been a spinner short but they performed well enough to complete their full overs allocation and each took two wickets.

Misbah-ul-Haq scored Pakistan’s only half century but he was playing in a doomed cause.

The most dramatic incident took place outside when an ICC observer, seeking out illegal vendors, stamped on a balloon bewaring the Indian tri-colour. The ICC apologised to the entire nation.

And so, at last, to the final on Sunday. It is in Mumbai, which just happens to be Tendulkar’s home ground. We might not have seen anything yet after all.

Belfast Telegraph


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