India are in the finals of the World Cup !! Lets savor this moment for a few seconds :)
OK, now that is done, so lets look at today's semi-final in some detail.
First of all, it looked like a mistake, and Dhoni admitted as much at the presentation, to leave out Ashwin on this track. But as it happens so often with Dhoni, it turned out to be a master stroke, by virtue of some luck :) I was not too unhappy with the omission of Ashwin considering that Pakistan play spin quite well, and have no left handers in their entire line-up. They are suspect against pace, so taking Nehra was not that bad of an idea.
India got off to a flyer yet again, courtesy Veeru and Sachin. When Veeru bats like he did today, he makes it look as if it is a flat batting track where 300 can be easily scored and chased down as well. But again, he gave it away. But he made one important contribution that needs to be highlighted in retrospective. He made their best bowler Umar Gul, look like a club bowler and shattered his confidence, from which he never recovered. It just makes us think, if a small cameo from Veeru has so many benefits, what are the possibilities if he bats for 20-30 overs in the innings ? Lets hope he has saved his best for the finals.
Sachin played a very strange innings. Once Veeru got out, he just could not find his timing and looked very shaky in the middle. I wont put it down to nerves. It looked like he could not read the surface properly and also struggled to pick the off-spinner Ajmal. It just goes to show, that no matter how many matches you play and how great a player you are, each game is different and you start from scratch each time. But credit to Sachin, he showed that he wanted to grit it out and take India to a safe total. Gambhir and Virat, once again, were looking good and then gave it away. Yuvraj got a real beauty first ball, and it was simply unplayable. It looked like the Pak think-tank had made special note of Yuvi's high backlift and worked out that the best first delivery to him is a yorker. I am sure Sri Lanka would have noted the same and will look to give the ball to Malinga when Yuvi comes out to bat in the finals.
The important and somewhat pleasing aspect of India's batting today was that India did not get bowled out and that the tail-enders scraped together some 50-odd runs with Raina. That turned out to be a match-winning aspect of the game in the end. If India had been bowled out for 220 or 230 (they were 205 or so when Dhoni got out with only the bowlers to come), I suspect that Pakistan would have chased it down. For this alone, I believe Raina is a better bet than Yusuf since he is a proper batsman and is full of confidence after his heroics against Australia.
It was good to see that India defended the par-score with contributions from all bowlers. Each bowler took 2 wickets. You cannot plan such things, but it is the perfect recipe for a semi-final and will give the bowlers and Dhoni lots of confidence going into the final. Yuvi once again bowled well and is proving me right time and again that he is a key member of this side for his bowling alone. That he is also batting wonderfully well is a great bonus for Dhoni and us fans. Yuvi has become a very smart bowler these days. It was nice to see him assess the conditions and use the slowness of the pitch by throwing it up very slow and getting the ball to grip on that surface. He also varies the pace and turns a few, even if very slightly, and bowls a few straight ones to keep the batsmen guessing.
Once again, it was pleasing to see Dhoni apply pressure on the batting by keeping close fielders and creating lots of dot balls. I think he may have read my blog before this game since he did quite a few things that I suggested in the preview :) He chose to bat first, the batsmen hit their main bowler Gul for a few boundaries early on, and also denied Afridi a wicket for his entire 10 overs thereby putting pressure on their entire bowling attack. Also, when India bowled, there was pressure created by lots of dot balls.
The fielding was good, with Raina, Kohli and Yuvraj standing out. It was nice to see Yuvi once again at his athletic best in the field. This, to me, is the final indication that the old Yuvraj is fully back and feeling really good about himself. As Indian fans, what more can we ask for going into the finals ? Nehra and Munaf had a nice confidence-boosting game ahead of the final, which is also good for Dhoni and the think-tank. Also, it was nice to see a couple of wickets against Harbhajan's name. He is an important part of this attack and needs to take wickets for India to do well in the bowling department. In fact, when Harbhajan started bowling today, I thought it would be nice to see his analysis as 2 or 3 wickets for 45 from 10 overs, instead of 0 for 35 from 10, and that is exactly what happened.
So there we are. One match away from glory. Can Dhoni and his men do it one more time ? The finals are against an opponent very different from the semi-final one. I will post a preview of the final later today or tomorrow. But for now, let us enjoy this important victory for India and discuss about this game and share thoughts for the final as well.