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Friday, March 25, 2011

World Cup 2011 - India end Oz dreams

If you can dream it, you can achieve it - so goes the saying. Yuvraj Singh had dreamt about beating Australia in a crucial game - today, he had a chance to make history and how he went about it. From the beginning of the World Cup, he has been going from strength to more strength every match. This knock once again highlighted the mental toughness for which he is usually not given much credit actually. As he mentioned in the press conference, the decision to play straight and on the ground helped him put up partnerships with the others.

Not just Yuvraj Singh, almost all the top seven batsmen made crucial contributions to the score - creating partnerships that helped move the score along while the batsmen were getting comfortable on a pitch that obviously was to the strength of the Indians. Sachin and Sehwag started briskly to make sure that the early threats of Lee and Tait were seen through. Even though Viru did not make a big score, he had helped the scoring rate a very healthy one and pushed the Oz skipper to start making quick bowling changes.

Yes, Sachin Tendulkar did walk again today. But, not many will talk about it since the nick was heard by most. After creating history by scoring 18000 runs (Motera's affinity towards history came to the fore again), Sachin was in such good form that one could see he was determined to stay till the end. The feet were moving so quickly even before the ball was delivered and the boundaries were coming along easily. One of the good balls bowled by Tait consumed him that might have given him a lump in his throat - the latter batsmen were good enough to keep his dream continue for another match. One could see his enthusiasm come to the fore in the morning itself when he decided to bowl after a long time - in fact, he spun one delivery that would have made Shane Warne proud.

Gambhir made another half-century in the busy way he goes about, scoring in singles and the odd boundary. Jumping out to spinners and pacers, he was able to keep the required run rate below six throughout. He must have gained inspiration from his fellow partner (Sehwag) of giving 3 opportunities in the space of 5 balls - bizarre running ended his innings that once again looked good to go the distance. Kohli, as well, started well and was motoring well when he tried to tonk a full toss from Hussey to mid-wicket.

Suresh Raina was one potentially controversial selection in the morning but by the end of the day, turned out to be a master-stroke. One was a bit confused why he did not get a bowl in the morning but that would not matter in the end result. It was going to be tough for him with the trio of Johnson, Lee and Tait operating for the Australians. Short balls were going to be the order of day and he was suspect. But, it looks like he has worked out a strategy with Gary Kirsten that would work, even though right now only on the subcontinental pitches. The pull shot was used frequently and the singles were taken to keep the pressure down. The Oz players tried their usual tactics of needling him but Yuvraj kept talking to him to keep his cool.

Overall, the Indian team played with a passion that was not seen before. The fielding display was the best that they had put up so far in the tournament, as Dhoni acknowledged. One sample was the dives that Ashwin put in on the boundary line to save boundaries. The players were apparently given Sachin's best knocks before the match - no wonder all of them were charged up for the match. If they continue with the same form, the Cup is not too far away.

In the morning, Dhoni started with Ashwin and it was clear that there was ample turn for the spinners. Though the Indian team did not run through the Oz lineup, they grabbed wickets regularly to thwart a launch against putting up a big score. MSD rotated his bowlers and brought in non-regulars like Sachin and Kohli to make up for Munaf's quota. If not for Ponting or the late assault of David Hussey, the target would have been probably less than 200. Zaheer, as has been his wont, came back in the second spell to take crucial wickets. Harbhajan bowled well without taking wickets - after Ashwin's presence in the team, Bhajji's bowling seems to have improved slightly. Yuvraj has been spectacular with the ball as he has been in the tournament - flighting the ball and getting decent purchase.

For the Aussies, Watson and Haddin gave a good start but could not sustain against some good bowling by the spinners. Ponting was the lone batsmen who gritted out in the searing heat, scoring a century after donkeys years. How this loss will affect him remains to be seen - will he be part of the team as a captain? Hussey was outfoxed by Zak and it was left to his younger brother to get a decent score on the board - eventually not enough for them.

India next takes on Pakistan in the semi-finals - a great match that will keep the subcontinent on their toes. I had predicted them to meet up in the quarters but some twists in the tale meant that they are meeting one stage later. Hope the next prediction I made (India vs Sri Lanka in the semi-finals) also goes the same way - India meeting the co-hosts in Mumbai in the finals! The Indians have the talent and today they showed their character to win the Cup - no wonder they are back as favorites once again.                
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