he build-up to the clash had been extraordinary. India-Australia duels have thrown up some captivating matches and a sense of anticipation was unmistakable in Ahmedabad. The side with greater belief emerged victorious, reports S. Dinakar.
In the end, a wave of emotions swept the crowd. Yuvraj Singh sank to his knees, let out a cry of triumph. His eyes were shut and his visage reflected relief, joy and a great sense of achievement.
“It’s for moments like these that I play cricket,” said the influential southpaw after an engrossing ICC World Cup quarterfinal of several fortune twists in a packed arena at Motera.
The build-up to the clash had been extraordinary. India-Australia duels have thrown up some captivating matches and a sense of anticipation was unmistakable in Ahmedabad.
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The traffic snarls leading to the stadium — cars moved slower than people on foot — confirmed the significance of the duel. The entire city, it seemed, was headed for the Sardar Patel Stadium.
The security, predictably, was tight. It was a battle of the heavyweights and the stakes were high. Both sides had to conquer the fear of failure in a perform-or-perish situation.
India lived but was on the brink of elimination. The match changed course as the hunter became the hunted. The crowd found its voice again.
-Ricky Ponting’s fine century went in vain-
The Aussies were closing in for the kill when Mahendra Singh Dhoni departed to leave India, pursuing a stiff target of 261, gasping for breath at 187 for five in the 38th over.
Then, an inspired Yuvraj (57 not out) and comeback kid Suresh Raina (34 not out) turned the duel on its head. The side with greater belief emerged victorious.
Yuvraj has taken flight in this World Cup. He has been resilient in the cauldron, been judicious with his stroke-play, and taken on immense responsibility. Banishing the demon of self-doubt, he has grown in confidence. “I wanted to bat till the end, play all along the ground,” said Yuvraj after the finish underlining his growing maturity.
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The southpaw is reading situations better and has been decisive with his response. And his left-arm spin has been of immense value to a side desperately seeking multi-dimensional cricketers.
Yuvraj’s bowling — he prised out a well-set Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke — has certainly evolved. He is using his body more in his action and ripping the ball harder. Yuvraj is luring batsmen to get on to the front foot and is nailing them when they do not get to the pitch of the ball or attempt to strike against the turn. The one that goes through straight is fairly deceptive as well.
Raina, picked over Yusuf Pathan, justified the faith of the team-management. The Aussie pacemen bounced at Raina but the left-hander not only held firm but even pulled a fired-up Lee past the ropes. When Raina, in a manner that was rousing, lifted Lee effortlessly over the long-on fence, the contest was going to end only one way.
The selection of Raina also lifted the quality of the Indian fielding. Along with Virat Kohli, he made telling stops in the circle, and there was a spring in the steps of the bowlers. The batsmen were under greater stress.
The final moments of a famous Thursday will not fly away easily. A resurgent India had ended Australia’s remarkable run in the championship stretching from 1999 when Steve Waugh’s men scaled the peak in Old Blighty.
Subsequently, Ricky Ponting led Australia to title triumphs in South Africa and the West Indies. This time around, the Aussies returned empty-handed.
“We are devastated,” said Ponting at the end. These simple words cut through the air like knife. Under immense pressure himself, Ponting had constructed a valuable 104 — his 30th ODI century — after winning a crucial toss on a dry pitch expected to offer increasing turn to the spinners.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting looks on during the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal against India – REUTERS
The skipper held the innings together, gave the side hope. The onus was on the bowlers. The Aussie pace pack of Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait let rip. Even on a quintessential sub-continental track, the trio managed to extract lift.
When it mattered though, Australia was let down by the lack of quality spinners. Off-spinner Jason Krejza, the lone specialist spinner in the XI, was found wanting. This side lacked balance. Australia missed its legends and game-changers who had left the scene. This side was without Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden. The replacements have clearly not been even remotely good enough.
Even an outstanding innings of responsibility, composure and footwork from Ponting failed to galvanise the side. At the end of it all, the Aussies walked back shattered.
The result confirmed the shift in the balance of power in world cricket. The Australians face a critical period in the days ahead and a few tough decisions may have to be made.
Eventually, the superior team effort from India carried the day. Left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan, employed in short spells by Dhoni, bowled with craft and control. His yorkers were on target and the slower ball that dismissed Michael Hussey was perfectly bowled.
Off-spinner R. Ashwin operated well in difficult phases and Harbhajan was unlucky not to strike. Then, half centuries from maestro Sachin Tendulkar and the left-handed Gautam Gambhir put India on course. It was crucial from an Indian perspective not to lose early wickets.
The memories of the game in front of a frenzied crowd at Motera will endure. It was a night of high drama when Australia was finally dethroned.
Second quarterfinal, Ahmedabad, March 24. India won by five wickets.
Australia: S. Watson b Ashwin 25; B. Haddin c Raina b Yuvraj 53; R. Ponting c Zaheer b Ashwin 104; M. Clarke c Zaheer b Yuvraj 8; M. Hussey b Zaheer 3; C. White c & b Zaheer 12; D. Hussey (not out) 38; M. Johnson (not out) 6; Extras (lb-2, w-9) 11. Total (for six wkts., in 50 overs) 260.
Fall of wickets: 1-40, 2-110, 3-140, 4-150, 5-190, 6-245.
India bowling: Ashwin 10-0-52-2; Zaheer 10-0-53-2; Harbhajan 10-0-50-0; Munaf 7-0-44-0; Yuvraj 10-0-44-2; Tendulkar 2-0-9-0; Kohli 1-0-6-0.
India: V. Sehwag c M. Hussey b Watson 15; S. Tendulkar c Haddin b Tait 53; G. Gambhir (run out) 50; V. Kohli c Clarke b D. Hussey 24; Yuvraj Singh (not out) 57; M. Dhoni c Clarke b Lee 7; S. Raina (not out) 34; Extras (lb-3, w-16, nb-2) 21. Total (for five wkts., in 47.4 overs) 261.
Fall of wickets: 1-44, 2-94, 3-143, 4-168, 5-187.
Australia bowling: Lee 8.4-1-45-1; Tait 7-0-52-1; Johnson 8-0-41-0; Watson 7-0-37-1; Krejza 9-0-45-0; Clarke 3-0-19-0; D. Hussey 5-0-19-1.
(From the Archives)
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