Dhoni in dreamland
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni turned his attention towards a “dream” World Cup final after India beat Pakistan by 29 runs in Mohali.
The result a billion people craved was confirmed when Pakistan were bowled out for 231 under the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium floodlights.
It not only represented India’s fifth win in five World Cup encounters with their neighbours and bitter rivals, but secured their place in Saturday’s showpiece against fellow co-hosts Sri Lanka in Mumbai.
“It’s a dream,” said Dhoni after Misbah-ul-Haq skied Zaheer Khan to Virat Kohli at long-on to bring to an end an unpredictable and occasionally bizarre contest.
“Before the start of the tournament we said it was very important to peak at the right time. That’s the beauty of this game - nothing comes easy.
“The good thing is we have chased a few decent scores; we have batted first; everybody has been tested, the batsmen and the bowlers.
“We are quite ready for the final but you have to be at your best on that particular day.”
Dhoni admitted India’s decision to play three seamers, though misguided, inadvertently paid dividends.
Each of India’s five bowlers claimed two wickets. Ashish Nehra, who was recalled at the expense of off-spinner Ravinchandran Ashwin, was the pick of them with 2-33, while Zaheer Khan bowled typical skilfully with the old ball.
“We read the wicket wrongly - that was one of the reasons why we played with three seamers,” Dhoni added. “But it went in our favour to an extent because the seamers bowled really well in this game. I didn’t have to use any extra bowlers.
“We don’t have bowlers who can bowl 140kph-plus; we rely on what you can say is deception.”
India’s total of 260 for nine was significantly lower than appeared possible after Virender Sehwag’s 25-ball 38 provided the early impetus to their innings.
Sachin Tendulkar narrowly missed out on a 100th international century - he was dropped four times and had an lbw verdict overturned in making 85 off 115 deliveries - and Dhoni praised India for the manner in which they realigned their sights after Pakistan fought back admirably with the ball.
He said: “We got off to a fantastic start, but as the game progressed the wicket got a bit slower and it was difficult to rotate the strike.
“Sometimes you look for a par score and look to defend it. If you don’t just look at the start, 260 was a decent score.”
Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi was magnanimous in defeat, congratulating “the Indian team and all the Indian nation for this great victory”, while apologising to his compatriots.
Afridi’s praise for Wahab Riaz, who bowled superbly to take 5-46, was tempered by his criticism of Pakistan’s error-strewn display in the field and the fact several batsmen played “irresponsible” shots.
However, he insisted: “We have played well in this competition; we have done a great job. I’m proud I’m the captain of these guys. Sorry to our nation. We tried our level best.”
Tendulkar, who collected the match award and can now look forward to a World Cup final in his home city, deflected praise on to opening partner Sehwag and Suresh Raina, whose unbeaten 36 carried India to a competitive total.
He also thanked a sell-out crowd for their typically vociferous support, claiming: “Without that it wouldn’t have been possible.
“Viru got us to a flyer and when we started I was thinking of 310-315. But we lost wickets and Raina played something special to make sure we got to a fighting total.
“Going back to Mumbai is wonderful occasion. (We must) focus on our job and get the job done.”
India coach Gary Kirsten, who leaves his post after the tournament, has confidence that his side can live up to their billing as pre-tournament favourites come Saturday.
“It’s a privilege to be with this Indian team,” he said. “They’re playing exceptional cricket at the moment and (today) we put it together the way we like to.
“I know we’ve got the skill to win this thing, but we’re playing against a very good team and we’re going to have to be on top of things.”