|Yuvraj Singh celebrates with Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, after
dismissing Kamran Akmal, on Sunday
Colombo: Pumping his clenched fists and screaming to the top of his voice with eyes almost popping out in excitement, Yuvraj Singh showed that he was back to his best. If there were fitness issues involved, his all-round show on Sunday had silenced the Doubting Thomases.
The all-rounder mesmerised the Pakistanis with his slow left-arm spin, picking up two wickets, and then contributed a useful 19 off 16 balls, proving that, like in the 2011 World Cup, he was returning to peak form at the right time. It was also a warning to those who had questioned his place in the side.
If Yuvraj was back to his near-best, how can Virat Kohli be left behind. The youngster once again showed his class with an unbeaten 78 off 61 balls as India galloped to an eight-wicket victory in 17 overs, at the Premadasa.
The super show kept their chances alive in the tournament. The target of 129 proved to be too little as it was accomplished in a clinical manner.
As always, this was a show of guts, character and skills. While India came out on top, Pakistan were left thinking about what went wrong. India’s 100 per cent record against them in World Cups thus remained intact.
Kohli hardly puts a wrong foot these days and the enormity of occasion always spurs him on. If it was a superlative 183 in Dhaka that sealed India’s victory the last time the two teams met in an International, the Premadasa innings will come close. He found good support from Virender Sehwag, who made 29 off 24 balls in his ‘comeback’ match, and Yuvraj. But it was his confidence and the pure chemistry of his strokes that stood out. The way he came down the track and lifted Umar Gul over the infield will stand out in memory.
There were nine boundaries and two sixes in Kohli’s knock, each perfectly executed and immaculately timed. It was not only the skills that captivated, it was also the assurance. If this was a pressure match, it showed on the Pakistanis. While the Indians showed the right temperament, Mohammed Hafeez’s men were done in by the circumstances. The Indians had won the mental warfare and there was no stopping them.
While the Indians soared in confidence with every passing minute, the Pakistanis’ body language was of despondency. To make it worse, they dropped catches at will. Be it Sehwag, Yuvraj, Lakshmipathy Balaji or Kohli, they never let the pressure affect them. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s leadership qualities helped, as did his boldness and a concerted effort to make things happen.
If Kohli and Sehwag had laid the foundation for the chase, it was Yuvraj who had turned the clock back. He dived full length to stop a boundary of the first legitimate delivery of the match. Then he teased the Pakistan batsmen with his slow deliveries, and fielded brilliantly in the point region.
A direct hit from backward point found Yasir Arafat short of his crease. It was one of those efforts that always singe the opposition while sending their own belief soaring.
Long before the Australia-South Africa match got over, the spectators from both sides had filled the Premadasa, waving flags and setting up the atmosphere that has made such encounters so special.
The Indians pulled off a surprise by including Balaji in the XI for Harbhajan Singh. Perhaps, the team management thought including a pacer would be helpful since the Pakistanis were adept at playing spin.
The move eventually turned out to be a master-stroke as the pacer returned with three for 22 off his 3.4 overs. The Kolkata Knight Riders player is always sought-after in this format for his precision and control.
He gave away only three runs in his first over and then returned to remove Shahid Afridi before cleaning the tail with consecutive deliveries. The decision to bat seemed to have been spot on when Pakistan began with 26 runs and five boundaries in the first two overs. Then came the slump as they took 6.5 overs to score the next 26.
Their run gathering was hampered by the regular fall of wickets as the Indian bowlers struck with unfailing regularity. They had crashed to 59 for five before a 47-run stand between Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal rescued their innings.
But just when both batsmen were looking to shape up, Ashwin removed them in consecutive overs to tilt the scales in India’s favour. First, Rohit Sharma took a low catch at short mid-wicket and then Umar was taken by Raina at deep mid-wicket.
The normally cool Raina then turned towards the crowd after completing the catch, cupping his ears as if to suggest that he couldn’t hear them.
There was hardly any challenge for the Indian bowlers as the Pakistan batsmen froze in the face of a calculated attack and a charged-up atmosphere. There was hardly any effort to counter-attack as none seemed capable of turning it around. It was India’s day and Pakistan were left at their mercy.