India prevail despite Ponting heroics
A tremendous century from Ricky Ponting proved in vain as India recorded a five-wicket win over defending champions Australia to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Ponting, who has come under increasing pressure in recent months following a prolonged run of poor form and a third Ashes defeat as Australia captain, was at his brilliant and pugnacious best during a defiant innings of 104.
The 36-year-old’s determined effort helped Australia to 260 for six on a wicket that provided plenty of assistance to the slow bowlers, but India were undeterred and chased down their target with 14 balls to spare, despite a middle-order wobble.
Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir laid a solid platform with scores of 53 and 50 respectively before the in-form Yuvraj Singh, who had earlier taken 2-44, guided his side over the line with a belligerent unbeaten 57.
India now face a mouth-watering last-four clash against Pakistan in Mohali on Wednesday - a match that is sure to capture the imagination of fans around the world.
After seeing Australia’s hopes of a fourth successive World Cup win come to an end, Ponting is unlikely to take any solace from his own return to form, yet he should be commended for the grit and determination he showed in steering his team to a competitive total.
Australia’s skipper was called into action after 10 overs when Shane Watson missed an attempted slog sweep off Ravichandran Ashwin and was bowled for 25.
He found a useful ally in Brad Haddin, who took a particular liking to Munaf Patel’s gentle seamers and plundered three fours from one over en route to his fourth half-century of the tournament.
However, the wicketkeeper-batsman departed for 53 as he drove Yuvraj to cover, where Suresh Raina dived forward to take a fine catch.
Michael Clarke became Yuvraj’s second victim when he holed out to wide long-on and Mike Hussey also fell cheaply as he was bowled through the gate by a wonderfully disguised slower ball from the impressive Zaheer Khan - who had dismissed West Indies opener Devon Smith in identical fashion in India’s last match.
Another slower delivery accounted for the woefully out-of-form Cameron White, who made 12 before providing Zaheer with a simple return catch.
That wicket left Australia on 190 for five with 8.4 overs remaining, but Ponting, who display masterful footwork throughout his innings, remained unperturbed and duly brought up his 30th one-day international hundred - and fifth in World Cups - in the company of David Hussey, who finished unbeaten on 38 from 26 balls.
Ponting did fall in the penultimate over of the innings as, with his first attempt at improvisation, he picked out Zaheer at short third man with a reverse sweep off Ashwin, yet Australia appeared to have recorded a par score.
Tendulkar ensured India’s reply got off to a solid start, despite the departure of Virender Sehwag, who top-edged a pull off Watson to Mike Hussey at short midwicket in the ninth over.
The Little Master reached the astonishing milestone of 18,000 ODI runs when he moved to 45, but was fortunate not to lose his wicket soon after as a deliberate upper cut off Brett Lee landed just short of Jason Krejza at third man.
Tendulkar was removed shortly after passing 50 when he looked to force the erratic Shaun Tait off the back foot and succeeded only in edging through to Haddin. Umpire Marais Erasmus called for video assistance to check if the seamer was guilty of a back-foot no-ball, but the decision was upheld.
Gambhir and Virat Kohli accumulated steadily thereafter and had few problems in keeping the required run-rate in check.
It was a surprise, therefore, to see Kohli throw his wicket away as he pulled a David Hussey full toss straight to midwicket.
Gambhir progressed serenely to 50 from 63 balls but failed to add to his total before being run out in farcical fashion. The left-hander had survived two earlier mix-ups with Yuvraj but paid the price for another breakdown in communication as White’s throw from short third man found him short of his ground at the non-striker's end.
When skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni cut Lee directly to Clarke at point, India looked to be in danger of capitulating, only for Yuvraj to take control.
The powerful all-rounder has found runs easy to come by throughout the tournament and was quick to punish any loose deliveries as he raced to fifty from 54 balls, with seven boundaries.
Suresh Raina justified his selection, ahead of Yusuf Pathan, with an impressive unbeaten 34, and Australia’s plight was summed up in the closing stages as Lee, fielding in the deep, was struck above the eye as he attempted, unsuccessfully, to prevent a boundary.