| Indians celebrate the fall of the last Sri Lankan wicket at the Wanderers in Johannesburg Monday. (AFP)
Johannesburg: India set the alarm bells ringing for front-runners Australia when they inflicted a crushing 183-run defeat on Sri Lanka in a Super Six match here on Monday to storm into the World Cup semi-finals.
Riding an exceptional performance by the three seamers, India bowled out Sri Lanka for a mere 109 runs in 23 overs. Man of the Match Jawagal Srinath, in all probability playing his last World Cup and Ashish Nehra claimed four wickets each while Zaheer Khan took two.
Sachin Tendulkar had earlier propelled India to 292 for six, becoming the highest scorer in a single World Cup in the process even though he missed his 35th one-day ton by just three runs.
|Nehra: Mops up the tail
Virender Sehwag and captain Sourav Ganguly also came up with handsome scores as India made Sri Lanka pay dearly for their decision to field first on winning the toss.
The victory catapulted India to 16 points on the Super Six table and also enlivened the possibility of a title clash with Australia at this very ground on March 23.
Srinath, who now has 14 wickets in this tournament and is joint fourth leading wicket-taker with Australian Glenn McGrath, struck the hammer-blows twice in his very first over when he sent back the in-form Maravan Atapattu and youngster Jehan Mubarak.
Mahela Jayawardene’s misery in this World Cup continued when he fell leg before to Zaheer Khan in the third over to leave Sri Lanka reeling at 3 for 3. Srinath then broke Sri Lanka’s back in the next over, trapping the dangerous Aravinda de Silva leg before.
At 15 for four in the fourth over, the Islander’s cause was all but over. Their slim hopes of even putting up a respectable total were dashed when captain Sanath Jayasuriya was sent back by Srinath in the eighth over with the total on 40.
Then it was Nehra’s turn. The quick then ran through the lower middle-order to hasten Sri Lanka’s demise. Both Nehra, who now has 12 wickets in this World Cup, and Srinath finished with figures of four for 35. Zaheer Khan’s two wickets cost him 33 runs.
The Lankans were in real danger of being bundled out for their lowest-ever score to India when they collapsed to 78 for nine. But some slogging by Muralidharan and Fernando, who put on 31 for the last wicket, ensured Sri Lanka safely crossed their previous lowest of 96 against India at Sharjah in 1984.
However, the result left them precariously placed in the race for the semi-finals. Their fate hinges not only on their last Super Six game against Zimbabwe but also on the result of games involving other teams like Kenya and New Zealand.
The bowlers’ performance completely overshadowed an equally efficient batting display by the Indians. Tendulkar and Sehwag provided another flying start to India, putting on 153 runs in 27 overs.
After Sehwag was out for 66, with five fours and three sixes, Sourav joined Tendulkar in a 61-run partnership for the second wicket. The captain played a fluent 48-run knock, studded with two fours and two sixes.
However, it was Tendulkar once again who stood out with his brilliant batting. He did not exactly hammer the Lankan bowlers as he did the Pakistanis but was equally effective nevertheless, scoring easily and freely.
It was only after the duo had bettered its previous best opening partnership of 134 that Sehwag launched into the attack. The Najafgarh lad struck two sixes in an over from Jayasuriya.
Even as Tendulkar asked his partner to keep his cool, Sehwag attempted another big hit against Muralidharan but the wily off-spinner foxed him with an away-going delivery that resulted in a catch at long on.
Sourav signalled his arrival on the crease with a stunning six against Nissanka.
Tendulkar, at the other end, had slowed down considerably after reaching the 80s. However, his 35th one-day century was not destined as he top-edged a De Silva delivery for wicketkeeper Sangakkara while trying to sweep.
This was the second time in this tournament that Tendulkar has got out in the 90s. He had fallen at 98 against Pakistan. However, he did become the highest run-scorer in any World Cup when he moved from 46 to 50 with a boundary. This brought his total to 524 runs in this edition, going past his own previous record of 523 in the 1996 World Cup.
After this innings, Tendulkar’s total stood at 571.