Not often does a team selection prove to a match winning decision. But the one to play Suresh Raina ahead of Yusuf Pathan proved to be a real masterstroke as the left hander held his nerves following some anxious moments for India and saw the team home in the company of the in-form Yuvraj Singh.
All along the tournament, Indian skipper M S Dhoni has been criticised for a number of his decisions and team selections. So it is only fair that he gets his share of praise for the decision to play Raina ahead of Yusuf. And his logic for the decision showed his cricketing acumen in good light. At the post match conference, Dhoni explained, “Since we were falling short of playing 50 overs we thought playing Raina would be a better option than Pathan if we had to play out 50 overs.” Of course all the 50 overs weren’t needed, but Raina’s knock was more than enough to justify his skipper’s decision. The partnership between Yuvraj and Raina killed any hopes Australia had after they got a couple of quick wickets to put India under great pressure.
It wasn’t an easy chase for India considering the conditions weren’t the most favourable under lights. The failure of Virender Sehwag did not help matters, but gritty half-centuries by Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir did. Both Tendulkar and Gambhir batted with a great sense of occasion as India went about chasing the challenging target in a calm manner. That was until Australia hit back with some well-earned strikes and evened the match out. Tendulkar got a wonderful away going delivery from the erratic Shaun Tait while Gambhir who was looking good for a lot more fell after an atrocious mix up with Yuvraj. However, the latter did well to hold his nerves. His found solid company in the form of Raina and two never looked back once they were in.
In the end, India won easily. But it wasn’t as simple as the eventual scorecard suggested. Australia dug out hard batting first after winning the toss. Brad Haddin registered an attacking half-century after the early loss of Shane Watson. But, it was Ricky Ponting’s hard fought century that set up Australia’s challenging total. It wasn’t by any means a return to form knock. He did not time ball well and most of his strokes were edgy ones. Yet, like a true champion, he did not throw is wicket away and kept the scoreboard busy. As his innings progressed, he managed to find the boundary on a few occasions and managed to clear them too. But, it was nowhere as fluent as the 2003 World Cup knock at Johannesburg, from which Ponting had derived inspiration prior to this big clash. Still, his bloody-mindedness was enough to keep him going as he went on to score one of the toughest hundreds of his career and without doubt his last in the World Cups. He found some able support in David Hussey, whose cameo was instrumental in Australia getting those extra runs. Like Dhoni, Ponting also made the decision to bring in the other Hussey ahead of Steven Smith and, although at the end of the day, it wasn’t a match-winning choice, David justified the decision with some big hits towards the end.
Even as it was the Yuvraj-Raina partnership that was instrumental in India’s pulsating win, there was a number of other contributions from the bowlers that should not go unnoticed. Zaheer Khan once again struck with the old ball when Australia were looking to consolidate on the solid platform laid by Haddin and Ponting. He bowled to beautiful slow swinging deliveries to fox first Michael Hussey and soon the woefully out of form Cameron White as India made a comeback into the game.
Man of the match Yuvraj was once again among the wickets with the ball. It was he who ended the dangerous looking knock of wicket-keeper Haddin and also accounted for Michael Clarke, who has an excellent record against India, to keep the bowling side in the game. Also, Ravichandran Ashwin yet again proved his worth as a spinner. Dhoni handed him the new ball for the second time in succession and he did not disappoint, cleaning up the big-hitting Watson just as he was beginning to open up. Later in the innings, his dismissal of century maker Ponting also aided India as he would have cut loose and given further trouble for India. Of course, Ponting was responsible for his own undoing, going for a reverse sweep, which he has probably never attempted in his career. Even so the fact is that Ashwin has a knack of picking up crucial wickets and his selection has certainly bolstered the Indian attack to an extent.
What they desperately need now is for Harbhajan Singh to find form. If he can get among the wickets, the Indian bowling wouldn’t look as bad as many have been describing it. Ditto with Munaf Patel, whose body language is really exasperating and, like on Thursday, if he doesn’t perform well it can have a really bad influence on the team. The puzzle needs to be solved soon since India face Pakistan next in the semis and they need to be at their very best for that mouth-watering prospect.
For Australia, it was a clear cut case of time catching up with them. They had dominated the World Cup for the best part of a decade and gave it their all against India. But, the fact that their best was behind them was evident in the losses to both Pakistan and India. Their rebuilding phase will continue and until then world cricket will be as open as it has even been in the past two decades. For a change, cricket fans are happy that this is not turning out to be another one-sided tournament.
Key moments in India-Australia clash
Shane Watson’s early dismissal by Ashwin
Ponting’s hard-earned ton
David Hussey’s wonderful cameo
Zaheer Khan’s important strikes with the old ball
Sachin and Gambhir’s well-compiled half-centuries
Dismissals of Gambhir and Dhoni in quick succession
The match-clinching partnership between Yuvraj and Raina
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