What a match we had once again !! The situation got really tense for India and us fans, but I am absolutely delighted that India won in the end and knocked the 3 times defending champions out of the 2011 World Cup. Reflect on that statement once again. It is a huge achievement that must be applauded and savored for a while. Australia had not lost even one match in World Cups since some time in the league phase of the 1999 WC, and now they lost 2 in 2 and crashed out of the 2011 WC in the quarter finals itself. Lets look at some aspects of the game in detail.
India, in retrospect, made a very good move by bringing in Raina in place of Pathan. I had mentioned in my preview that I was ok with Raina playing, but I was not sure he was definitely needed for this game. The Ahmedabad pitch was perfect for Raina and he took full advantage of that and played very well to see India through along with Yuvraj.
I was surprised that everyone from the commentators to the captains were suggesting that India should bat first if they won the toss. Luckily for everyone, that decision was taken out of Dhoni's hands with Ponting winning the toss and batting first. It worked for India in the end and I was proved right.
The bowlers used the conditions very well to keep Australia to a chaseable score of 260. I was impressed by the fielding and Dhoni's captaincy in the first half of this game. The fielders in the inner-ring were placed close to prevent easy singles and exerted pressure on Australia. The choice of fielders was very good as well. Dhoni had his good fielders - Virat, Raina, Yuvi - in the circle saving one for the most part. The bowlers also bowled to their field and did not give too many freebies to the batsmen with loose bowling. All bowlers except Munaf bowled well. Munaf, like I said in my tournament preview, was quite predictable with his line and length and the Aussie batsmen correctly identified him as the weak link and went after him successfully. Zak bowled very well as usual and Ashwin supported him nicely up front and also did his job in the middle and at the end. Harbhajan bowled well without looking as threatening as he did against SA, and Yuvraj came back well after Ponting went after him in his first couple of overs. Yuvi once again proved his worth with the ball by picking up 2 crucial wickets and he also kept the run rate in check.
Other than Ponting, none of the other Aussie batsmen looked to bat through the overs and got out at wrong times, some of them to bad shots. One other aspect of Dhoni's captaincy that impressed me was his bowling changes. He kept trying different things, like bringing Sachin to bowl, which is a rarity these days, and giving Virat one over. What the multiple, sudden changes does, is throw the opposition off their plan and make them think as well. It was good to see Dhoni think a lot about his bowling resources and making all those frequent changes.
The first good thing about the chase was that India did not give early wickets to the Aussies. When defending a par score, the opposition always counts on getting early wickets and thereby, exerting pressure on the batting side. This did not happen. So even though the opening partnership was not a huge one, it was important because it denied the Aussies an early breakthrough. Also, by that time, the openers had seen off the opening spells of Lee and Tait, two of the Aussies' most potent weapons with the ball, and forced Ponting to think.
Sehwag got out to the short ball again, but Sachin played very well. He gauged the conditions perfectly and played percentage cricket. He looked good for a century, but fell once again nicking to the keeper. Again, Sachin's was not a huge contribution, but an important one because it gave confidence to the others till he was around that the total could be chased. In fact, that was the theme of this chase. No major huge innings, but nice cameos that contributed to the overall cause. It was a collective effort with the bat, and that was heartening to see. Usually, when India wins while chasing, we are used to seeing one huge innings and a few smaller ones. This time, almost everyone contributed and India won, the kind of batting we are used to seeing from South Africa or the New Zealand teams from the 1990s.
Gautam played his part, but for no reason, suddenly became very jittery and his body language changed in the period before he got out. Virat once again got out playing a bad shot, for the second game in succession. Hopefully, he learns from his mistakes and does not repeat this in the semi-final. Today, Yuvraj was looking like the Yuvi of old, confident and purposeful and determined to see the chase to the end. After Dhoni flopped yet again, Raina played well and justified his worth and selection. Like I had mentioned in the preview, Australia were hurt by the lack of penetration in their spin bowling and the 5th bowler. Also, Tait had an off-day like I had predicted. In the end, 260 was chased down with some comfort, which should give a lot of confidence to the batsmen, who were in need of such a game after repeatedly giving it away in the earlier games.
India ticked off most of the boxes in the match today. There are 2 obvious concerns at the moment -Munaf's predictability with the ball and Dhoni's horrible form with the bat. One other concern is the panic that seems to set in in the middle overs while batting. This Indian team used to chase down totals in the range of 280-290 without too much trouble, not too long ago. What happened to that team ? Hopefully, even after today's panicky batting in the middle overs, India would have gained some confidence from the end result and can translate that into a cool, measured approach with the bat in the semi-finals.
So lets enjoy this great victory and as India fans, lets unwind from today's game by watching/following the next 2 QFs which are tension-free for us. My next post will be a preview before the semi-final against Pak.
Lets hear your thoughts now. We have almost one week before the SF, so lets discuss and celebrate this.