The celebrations went on late into night in every corner of India after Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team ended Australia’s 12-year grip on the World Cup.
Australia fought like tigers to keep its hold on the trophy that it won the past three times and that was evident from the beginning when Ricky Ponting struck a superb century. Even though the result shows that India breezed to a comfortable five-wicket win, it wasn’t until Yuvraj Singh slammed a four off Brett Lee with 14 balls to spare did all of India heave a collective sigh of relief.
If this was one absorbing contest, emotions are bound to run as high as the 38C heat in the semifinal at Mohali when it faces Pakistan on March 30. This confrontation is larger than any sports rivalry.
The countries have gone to war on a couple of occasions and any contest between the two crosses both political and religious boundaries. The soccer battle between Glasgow rivals Celtic and Rangers over religious beliefs pales in comparison. So do the other rivalries between rugby’s New Zealand and South Africa and hockey’s Canada and Russia. These are purely sporting battles over bragging rights.
Sporting ties in recent years between India and Pakistan have been far and in-between and, in the 1990s, the two met each other annually in Toronto for the Sahara Cup. But that came to an abrupt end much to the disappointment of North American fans after India cut off all sporting ties with Pakistan as a result of military battles over Kashmir.
“This is awesome,’’ said Waqar Younis, the Pakistan coach, of the semifinal clash against India. “It should be very exciting between two cricket-loving countries.’’
The spotlight yesterday was on Ponting and India’s Sachin Tendulkar. Could the Aussie captain lead from the front and retain that iron grip on the trophy or would Tendulkar bow out of the World Cup without ever winning the World Cup after such an illustrious career?
Both were brilliant. The 36-year-old Australian displayed his class by making 104 with a six and seven fours as he helped his team total 260 for six. Tendulkar was his usual sublime self in his innings of 53 that laid the foundation for the victory.
But the star of the gripping contest was Yuvraj Singh, who has time and again in this tournament come to India’s rescue. He took two wickets and then scored an unbeaten 57 at a time when Australia appeared to be taking an upper hand.
India came under intense pressure when it lost the wickets of Virat Kohli (24), Gautam Gambhir (50) and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni for seven. It was unbelievable to see an experienced player like Gambhir go for a single that did not exist.
His dismissal came just a ball after he had just survived another run out. With India still needing 70 runs there was a hush in the stadium. But Yuvraj and Raina (34) guided India past the finish line with a partnership of 74 from 61 balls.
“The pressure was unbelievable,’’ Yuvraj said. “People say that it’s just another game, but beating the three-time champions I feel is really special for me and our team.’’
And it was no surprise to see Tendulkar rush on to the field to give Yuvraj a huge hug for keeping his World Cup dream alive.
Ponting congratulated India on a great win.
“While it is disappointing to be bowing out now, I wish India well for the rest of the tournament.”