Ref: India knocked out arch-rivals Pakistan by 29 runs in a dramatic semi-final of see-saw battle to make sure Sachin Tendulkar remains on course for his World Cup day of destiny in Mumbai.
The 37-year-old was dropped no fewer than four times and survived two umpire reviews in his uncharacteristically scratchy 85. India’s 260 for 9 in 50 overs had looked vulnerable but in the end it proved more than enough.
But Pakistan were all out for 231 in the final over, their fifth successive World Cup loss to their neighbours.
The “Little Master” scored 85 off 115 balls in the luckiest innings of his thrilling career in a Mohali showdown hailed as the biggest game in ODI history. It leaves him one ton away from the 100th hundred of a first-class career that he began as a 17-year-old.
Indians were brilliant in the field, defending an under-par total with huge skill and nerve under pressure.
Tendulkar will certainly be hoping that the good fortune will last for one more game so he can end India’s 28-year wait to repeat their success over the West Indies at Lords in 1983. The opener made the most of his escapes, though.
The missed opportunities will haunt Pakistan for many years to come as they look back on their failure to take the chance to reach the final. Tendulkar was put down on 27, 45, 70 and 81.
Pakistan believed they were in with a chance of ending the party at the halfway stage largely thanks to the efforts of Riaz, who produced a devastating spell to pull back India to a more managable total.
After winning the toss and opting to bat first, India looked like posting 300, when Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar were blazing away at the start of the innings.
Soon, they found Riaz and Saeed Ajmal in sparkling form with the ball.
With precise clips off his legs and sweetly-struck drives, Sehwag struck five fours in an over from the wayward Umar Gul and had amassed 38 by the end of the fifth over.
Gul was pasted to all areas as he failed to deal with the pressure of being Pakistan’s go-to bowler, but fortunately Riaz rose to the challenge.
Sehwag was lbw trying to turn one from Riaz to leg and as India reached 50, Tendulkar’s innings was still in its infancy with eight to his name from only 11 balls faced.
He soon demonstrated some exquisite timing as a defensive flick raced through mid-on for four, before he was given out lbw on 23 to the spin of Saeed Ajmal.
Umpire Ian Gould’s decision looked perfectly correct as Tendulkar was hit playing across the line but under review the ball tracking system indicated it was turning down the leg-side sufficiently to miss the stumps, and to the great delight of the vast majority of the crowd the decision was overturned.
There was an appeal for a stumping next ball which was also rejected after a replay, while the first drop occurred with Tendulkar on 27 when Misbah-ul-Haq failed to cling on diving to his right at mid-wicket.
India’s 100 came up in the 16th over but Pakistan began to slowly claw their way back, Gautam Gambhir deceived in flight by Mohammad Hafeez and stumped.
Younis Khan spilled a routine chance at extra-cover with Tendulkar on 45 and the opener duly completed his 95th one-day international half century by taking the aerial route safely over the cover fielders for his eighth four.
Left-armer Riaz soon brought Pakistan firmly back in the contest with wickets in successive balls to restrict India to 141-4, Virat Kohli mis-timing straight to point and Yuvraj Singh bowled first ball by a low, late-swinging full toss.
Tendulkar saw a thick edge brush the gloves of Kamran when on 70 to the exasperation of the ever demonstrative Afridi, who went wicketless for the first time in the tournament.
Then on 81 Umar Akmal spurned another opportunity, with spinner Mohammad Hafeez making a few choice observations on the error.
But 15 short of the landmark Tendulkar drove to extra-cover where Afridi made no mistake, and the run-rate soon dropped below five for the first time since the end of the second over.
Dhoni made a sedate 25 from 42 balls and Suresh Raina played a little cameo of 36 off 39 balls to make sure India remain firmly in the game after they lost their way in the middle of the innings.
Pakistan briefly appeared on course to upset the odds after Kamran Akmal and Hafeez began at a lightning rate, but India constantly found a way to keep pegging back their opponents, taking wickets at regular intervals.
Hafeez was the biggest culprit, throwing away his wicket and the chance to win the game, when he had a brainstorm on 43 and a ridiculous paddle sweep to Munaf Patel resulted in him gifting a catch to Dhoni behind the wicket.
The moment opener Hafeez departed, the pressure started to build. Others made starts, but were unable to disprove the theory that their batting was too fragile to seriously threaten to ruin Tendulkar’s dream of lifting the World Cup in front of his own fans in Mumbai.
Dhoni rotated his bowlers to good effect and Yuvraj, Patel and Harbhajan Singh all made important contributions, helped by some questionable batting from Pakistan.
Akmal flashed a square-drive at Zaheer into the hands of Yuvraj at point, Asad Shafiq was bowled middle-stump trying to cut Yuvraj, and Younus Khan holed out off the slow left-armer at cover.
Umar Akmal (29) temporarily raised Pakistan hopes again, but Harbhajan gave his side the most important breakthrough, doing him for pace with a flatter delivery from round the wicket.
Big hitters Abdul Razzaq and Shahid Afridi could not do something exceptional to put the match back in the balance as they could not find the form that has been missing all tournament.
Inexplicably, Pakistan gambled all on a delayed powerplay. But by then, as the run rate required rose alarmingly, too many Pakistan batsmen had fallen trying and failing to keep Pakistan in contention.
Misbah had played a curiously subdued innings, with his first 27 taking 52 balls, and though he hit two fours and a six in six deliveries 30 were needed from the final over and India justified their decision to field three seamers by defending a relatively modest total.