India secure final berth
India will take on fellow co-hosts Sri Lanka in the World Cup final after they overcame arch rivals Pakistan by 29 runs in an eventful match in Mohali.
Although Pakistan’s bowlers - led by the impressive Wahab Riaz, who claimed 5-46 - largely excelled as they restricted India to 260 for nine on a good wicket, their frailties in the field and with the bat were once again exposed.
Sachin Tendulkar was dropped on four occasions en route to 85 and his contribution proved key as Pakistan fell short of their target, with Mohammad Hafeez and Misbah-ul-Haq the only batsman to pass 40.
India, who would not have been fully satisfied with their own batting display, were able to claim wickets at regular intervals and Hafeez’s opening stand of 44 with Kamran Akmal was not surpassed in the remainder of the run-chase.
Misbah was the last man to fall for Pakistan, having adopted an strangely cautious approach in making 56 from 76 balls. He was largely responsible for the required run-rate spiralling out of control and there was an element of farce in the closing overs as he turned down a series of singles in order to keep the strike.
All five of India’s bowlers picked up two wickets and were backed up by a polished fielding display in sharp contrast to that of their opponents.
There remains a feeling that Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side have yet to display their full potential in this tournament, but they now have the opportunity to achieve a memorable triumph in Mumbai on Saturday.
The stage is also set for Tendulkar to register his 100th international hundred, in his home city, on the biggest stage of all. He will hope to enjoy the sort of fortune he had today.
Tendulkar was content to play a supporting role early on as Virender Sehwag launched a brutal assault on Pakistan’s new-ball bowlers, with the erratic Umar Gul coming in for particular punishment.
Sehwag took five fours from Gul’s second over and, although he subsequently fell lbw to Riaz for 38 from 25 balls, his aggressive approach provided India with valuable early momentum.
Tendulkar was reprieved in the 11th over when he successfully reviewed an lbw decision that had gone in favour of Saeed Ajmal, and there was further drama when, beaten by a doosra next ball, he narrowly avoided being stumped by Kamran.
Tendulkar then pulled Shahid Afridi to midwicket, but Misbah was unable to hold on as he dived to his right.
Pakistan’s spinners continued to cause problems and were finally rewarded as Hafeez lured Gautam Gambhir out of his crease with a flighted delivery that spun sharply, leaving Kamran to complete a simple stumping.
Yet the wicket of Tendulkar remained elusive and Younus Khan put down a simple chance at cover when the batsman drove Afridi on the up.
Tendulkar made a better fist of the same shot in Afridi’s next over and moved past 50 with his eighth four before Riaz took centre stage with two wickets in successive balls.
Virat Kohli was unable to deal with a delivery that angled away and provided Umar Akmal with a routine catch at backward point, while Yuvraj Singh had his stumps splayed by a fierce inswinging yorker.
Tendulkar was dropped on two further occasions, by Kamran and then Umar at midwicket, as India struggled to regain their earlier momentum.
In the end, it was Afridi, who had seen three catches put down off his bowling alone, who held on to dismiss Tendulkar as he drove Ajmal loosely to cover.
India skipper Dhoni struggled to settle and was also dropped by Kamran before falling in similar fashion to Sehwag off Riaz.
The return of the expensive Gul, who conceded 69 from eight overs, provided India with a late boost, but Ajmal had Harbhajan Singh stumped for 12 and Riaz completed a memorable performance by having Zaheer Khan caught behind in his final over.
Ashish Nehra was run out off the penultimate delivery of the innings as he looked to get Suresh Raina, who finished unbeaten on 33, back on strike.
Pakistan, who had lost their previous four World Cup matches against India, started well, with both Hafeez and Akmal appearing in good touch.
Yet their top-order batsmen were all guilty of throwing their wickets away in careless fashion and their failure to build partnerships ultimately proved fatal.
Kamran departed for 19 in the ninth over as he sliced a slower ball from Zaheer to Yuvraj at point.
While he was guilty of a loose shot, the manner in which Hafeez, who had timed the ball sweetly en route to 43, departed was inexcusable.
For reasons known only to himself, the experienced opener attempted a pre-meditated paddle sweep off Munaf Patel and succeeded only in edging to Dhoni.
Asad Shafiq and Younus made steady progress thereafter, but the former was bowled for 30 as he played an ill-advised cut off Yuvraj.
An out-of-form Younus provided Yuvraj with a second wicket when he drove to Raina at cover, but Umar briefly raised Pakistan hopes as he thumped the same bowler for sixes over midwicket and long-off.
Unfortunately for Pakistan, the mercurial youngster was unable to build on his promising start and he too was bowled as Harbhajan, operating around the wicket, got one to skid on with the arm.
Munaf accounted for Abdul Razzaq with a marvellous leg-cutter and Afridi made just 19 before slicing a Harbhajan full toss high into the air to provide Sehwag with a simple catch.
Misbah remained at the crease, yet his defensive tactics seemed to be completely at odds with the game situation and Pakistan slumped closer to defeat as Riaz and Gul departed cheaply to the recalled Nehra.
Misbah finally found the accelerator late on, with 51 required from the final three overs, and brought up his half-century by clubbing Munaf over long-on for six.
By that stage, however, India’s enthusiastic fans had already started to celebrate and it was not long before their team’s place in the final was confirmed.