The dream is over. The infuriating wait for the titanic India-Pakistan clash ended in anti-climax for the fans in green as India shattered Pakistan’s hopes for a 2011 World Cup final appearance courtesy a nervy 29-run win watched by thousands inside the stadium and billions in front of their television sets.
A five-wicket haul by Wahab Riaz, included ahead of Shoaib Akhtar as the team management chose mind over heart, restricted the hosts to a below-par 260. However, Pakistan’s batting crumbled in a chase under lights for the umpteenth time and, as Shahid Afridi puzzled all with his rigidness in delaying the batting Powerplay, the tourists were left needing a miracle.
Misbahul Haq, adapting a strange defensive strategy that allowed the asking run-rate to mount to unreachable heights, dreamt of a glorious end but poor planning and India’s effective death-bowling ensured Sachin Tendulkar plays his last World Cup match on home turf.
“I want to say sorry to my nation,” said captain Afridi who suffered a rare poor outing in the tournament with the ball, going wicket-less and contributing just 19 with the bat. “We tried our level best and we enjoyed ourselves at this
Afridi predicted his team to reach the last-four before the World Cup began – a notion shared by only a few – but the team’s dominance in the group matches, and the rise in confidence as it marched into the semi-final, gave birth to the dream of lifting the trophy.
However, four dropped catches reprieving man-of-the-match Tendulkar (85) allowed the hosts to scrape past the 250-mark and despite a reasonable start, Pakistan faded out, handing the screaming fans at the packed Punjab Cricket Association Stadium a perfect result.
Riaz, who would not have played the World Cup if it was not for the bans handed out to Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, grabbed a career-best five for 46, a haul that included the prized scalps of Virender Sehwag and India captain MS Dhoni. He dismissed Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh off consecutive deliveries with the latter bamboozled by a late-swinging yorker first-up. But the Pakistan batsmen failed to take cue from the left-armer and the momentum gained on the field was lost as they ended up agonisingly short of a dream finale against Sri Lanka on Saturday.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2011.