Cricket: Tendulkar class seals final spot for India
Well, that's the really important bit done and dusted. India must now somehow stir themselves for the inconsequential affair of the World Cup final itself.
Amid much excitement but little matching drama, they defeated Pakistan last night in the semi-final and will face their fellow hosts Sri Lanka in Mumbai on Saturday.
While it might be seen as destiny fulfilled if India win the competition for the second time, they would probably be forgiven if it does not work out. The whole nation, half of which seemed to have made its way to the small ground in Mohali, considered last night's result a matter of honour. Defeat would have been a devastating blow to national pride.
Pakistan, the travelling troubadours of world cricket, will not face outrage for once. There should be no effigies of their players burnt in the streets of Lahore for failing their compatriots.
It would have been one of the wonders of the modern world had they managed to prevail, given their level in the rankings, the constant turmoil prevalent in the running of the game in their country and their status as pariahs who cannot play at home.
It would be unfair to suggest that India's win by 29 runs was never in doubt. Between innings there was considerable doubt among their supporters that the 260-9 they managed from 50 overs would be sufficient, considering the high-scoring reputation of the surface at the ground.
But Pakistan were not in the mood for victory. They shelled five catches, committing the cardinal sin of dropping Sachin Tendulkar four times, which is like leaving all the doors and windows open in the house when the world's best burglar is in the neighbourhood.
If Pakistan could do that, the likelihood was that nobody would have the patience and fortitude to stay around long enough on a pitch that was not quite as friendly for batting as it was in the past. So it proved, and some time before the formal end of the tie it was clear that India had the game in hand.
The man of the match -- for the 62nd time in his career and the ninth in World Cup matches -- was the blessed Tendulkar. He was put down on 27, 45, 70 and 81, all of them eminently catchable chances at midwicket (twice), extra cover and behind the wicket.
In addition, he was reprieved twice before all that when, on 23, he was given out leg before to Saeed Ajmal. More in hope than expectation, since the ball looked to be going on to hit the stumps, he asked for a review and the replays showed the ball would have missed.
Two balls later he might have been stumped but the slow-motion camera was not quite conclusive enough for a verdict to be upheld.
India were given an electrifying start which stirred the cockles of the crowd immediately. In the context of what was to come later, the nine fours that Virender Sehwag struck so thunderously in his 25-ball innings were vital. After 10 overs they meant India had reached 73 and, as the pitch withdrew its favours, it also allowed them to take stock.
Although the ball was turning, it also began to stop in the pitch, which allowed the seamers to play a role. Pakistan's most successful bowler was Wahab Riaz. He took 5-46 with some smart changes of pace, slanting the ball across the right handers.
Just when it seemed India might be a little too shy of a decent target, Suresh Raina scored a bustling 36 from 39 balls at the end. As Tendulkar observed later, it made the difference.
Pakistan started brightly but not at India's pace. What looked as though it might be a feasible chase became a distant one. Their highest partnership was for their first wicket and no pair stayed around long enough. India might have been a spinner short, having preferred three seamers, but they each performed adequately enough to complete their full overs allocation and each took two wickets.
Misbah-ul-Haq scored Pakistan's only half-century but he always looked as though he was playing in a doomed cause. The most dramatic incident of the day took place outside the ground when an ICC observer, seeking out illegal vendors, stamped on a balloon bearing the Indian tricolour. The ICC apologised to the whole Indian nation.
And so, at last, to the final. It is in Mumbai, which just happens to be Tendulkar's home ground. We might not have seen anything yet after all. (© Independent News Service)