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Thursday, March 31, 2011

World Cup 2011 - India puts it past Pakistan again

Four matches between the neighbors earlier had resulted in India victories - 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003. In 2011 World Cup as well, there was no difference to the verdict. This match was probably much more tilted in India's favor than the previous matches as the gulf between the two sides was huge. The media hype surrounding it was huge and one wondered how the players would cope up. Thanks to this match, the lives of few people were changed - notice what cricket can do.

Of course, for the players involved in the match itself, they will never forget this match till the next time they meet Pakistan in a match of similar nature. The pressure was intense and it was a match full of events, right from the toss. MS Dhoni made a change which was not the right one on hindsight but again he did not face the after-effect thanks to his bowler's resolve to make amends.

Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag started the match in a positive manner, especially the latter. Sehwag probably likes Pakistan bowling as much as he likes to 'drink milk'. He dismantled one of the engines that was powering Pakistan's march in this tournament - Umar Gul - reducing him to a bystander in the entire match. The effects of the first spell would haunt Gul even in his latter spells when he could not land yorkers the way he could in the previous matches.

Thanks to Wahab Riaz, Sehwag had to take the stride back to the pavilion but Sachin took over the responsibility of hitting boundaries. Somewhere in his eagerness to score quickly (he admitted that he was looking at a score of 310-320), Tendulkar started giving chances to Pakistan players. Sachin has been against UDRS as well as been at the receiving end of Umpire reviews many a time. Today, both came to his rescue in consecutive balls! In all, he was dropped by Pakistan's seniors (Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq), wicket-keeper (Kamran Akmal) and best fielder (Umar Akmal) before Shahid Afridi took matters in his own hands and ended the veteran's stint.

In between was another partnership between Sachin and Gambhir that motored along scoring singles and the odd boundary. Gambhir tried to attack Hafeez who was bowling a very tight line and fell by the wayside. Virat Kohli couldnt get going thanks to Wahab's tight bowling - the youngster does not have the same stats when he is batting first compared to his solid performance during chases. He and Yuvraj Singh fell in consecutive balls, putting India under pressure again. This was the turning point in the first innings - a stage when MS Dhoni and Tendulkar got together and probably reduced their target from 310+ to a more realistic 270+. They stabilized for the next few overs, scoring at a reduced run-rate but keeping their wickets intact.

Tendulkar and Dhoni also fell in the space of 5 overs and there was a possibility that the famed Indian collapse could make its appearance once again. But, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan played a neat cameo with the help of Suresh Raina to take India to a decent score at the end of 50 overs.

The Pakistan team must have been happy at the break at restricting the Indians to a score of 260 and they had enough reasons to be. But, the Indians knew that the ball was stopping and turning during their innings. MSD knew that the spinners would make an impact and wasted no time in bringing in Harbhajan early after the initial overs did not fetch any wickets. The pressure of chasing a good score on this pitch started playing on the minds of the batsmen and they fell to shots that they should have probably not played. Hafeez against Munaf and Asad Shafiq against Yuvraj were examples of how pressure was making its presence felt.  

These wickets meant that there were players of defensive mindset (Younis and Misbah) at the crease. They were very slow at their intentions, thinking that the latter overs would make up for their tactics. Maybe, Umar Akmal should have come in earlier, as he showed what he can do in his short stint. But, thanks to this move, by the time Umar was at the crease, the required run-rate was rising and he had to go for the big shots every over. Harbhajan out-foxed him with a ball that went on with the arm, giving another dent to Pakistan's hopes.

Razzaq was promoted by his skipper but he could not do much on a pitch that had started gripping the ball more. He was quickly disposed of, bringing the captain to the crease. To his credit, Afridi lasted the most in the tournament so far without showing any of the mindless aggression that he is capable of. But, Harbhajan again sent him on his way with the help of a low full-toss that he hit to cover.

Nehra turned up to the party by adding wickets to his tidy performance with the ball. Wickets started falling and PowerPlay was taken by default. It was then, Misbah started unleashing his big shots. He showed that he could play the aggressive game as well as anyone else - why he waited for so long was Ramiz's question throughout his innings. But, the Indians knew that he was one hit away from getting hit. The bowlers bowled impeccably well, with Munaf hitting the right lengths repeatedly.

Overall, a good bowling performance by a set of bowlers who have been under pressure throughout. Here, also, under pressure they delivered a great spell, restricting run-making as well as taking wickets repeatedly to put additional pressure. All the stints with Paddy Upton and Horn were visibly helpful to the Indian team - they were able to soak in the pressure environment and show their A-game. No wonder, they are the favorites in the finals now. Will Sachin Tendulkar have a grand sign-off in his home-town by scoring his 100th ton and winning the Cup? Well, wish the script is written this way.
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