A crucial cricket match that threatened to play second fiddle to sporting diplomacy, rose above the politics to provide a thrilling win for India and a trip to Mumbai to face Sri Lanka.
If any player can block out that kind of hype it's Virender Sehwag. He strolled off the team bus, headphones in his ears and whistling a tune. If indeed Sehwag considers batting a task — it’s more likely he deems it a pleasurable pursuit — what followed was ‘whistling while you work’.
He sent balls flying to the boundary for the first few overs and it helped India enormously. First, it set Pakistan’s in-form bowler Umar Gul back on his heels and second, it allowed Sachin Tendulkar to ease into his innings.
Tendulkar’s struggle for runs was a portent for how difficult Pakistan's chase would be and their fielding also contributed to those problems. At least four chances went down but just when Tendulkar looked certain to post century no 100, he holed out to Shahid Afridi.
Despite all the fielding errors and Gul's implosion, Afridi kept control and he did it mainly with the help of the lively Wahab Riaz's bowling. Pakistan's ability to unearth good pacemen is amazing; not many teams can make Shoaib Akhtar redundant but Riaz's five wickets proved they'd made the right move.
The most surprising aspect of the Indian mid-innings slide was their inability to dominate the Pakistani spinners. Nevertheless, India had set a testing total, thanks to Tendulkar’s grit, Gul's generosity and some of the most butter-fingered fielding ever seen in a knockout game.
Pakistan opted for a more calculated start. It seemed to be working well but India persevered with the ball and refused to give their opponents any second chances. As Dhoni squeezed the opposition, Pakistan started to press for runs and this resulted in a steady fall of wickets.
Despite failing with the bat, World Cup hero Yuvraj Singh found a way to contribute and took two crucial wickets. Eventually though, the clinching wicket was taken by Harbhajan Singh, when he out-thought Afridi and had him caught.
India mightn’t have the most glamourous attack but the last few games they’ve been doing their job in a very disciplined manner. At the commencement of the tournament, Dhoni talked about peaking at the right time and his bowling attack is certainly doing that.
With an in-form bowling attack and a feared batting line-up, headed by the explosive Sehwag, India head to Mumbai with everything in good order. Their contest with Sri Lanka should provide a fitting climax to a tournament that has lived up to the cricketing hype.Full match report