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The first real quarter-final was a fantastic match, taut, poundingly tense and closely fought throughout, played with an enchanting cocktail of high-level skill and intermittent outbursts of cricketing crackpottery, and ultimately won by some glorious batting by Yuvraj and Raina. Every over seemed to shift the likelihood of victory slightly one way or the other, before 27 runs from the 40th and 41st overs of India’s innings catapulted the game decisively into the blue corner.
Under the pressure of the match and tournament situation, of an Ahmedabad crowd who seemed to be attempting to break the world record for the largest recorded simultaneous nervous gulp, and of a nation unlikely to respond to defeat by patting them on the back and saying, “Don’t worry, it’s the taking part that counts,” the two left-hand batsmen mixed sound defence with clinical aggression against bowling of pulsating pace.
Yuvraj is one of those few fascinating cricketers who combine majesty with vulnerability. As a Test player, he has mostly disappointed, the average of 35 that you see in the record book at odds with the left-hand Wally Hammond that you see at the crease. That GraemeFowleresque, ShivSunderDasian figure of 35 is often used by atheists, when set alongside Graeme Smith’s equivalent of 49, as an aesthetic argument that proves the non-existence of god.
Even Yuvraj’s distinguished ODI career had taken a pronounced downturn over the preceding 18 months. This tournament, the visual splendour of his stroke play has been matched by its assurance and determination. 57 not outs rarely glow like beacons on scorecards, but in a match that was not merely spell-binding, but presented witchcraft’s top 20 recipes boxed up in a commemorative gold-plated folder, and that was played in the tightest margins between defeat and victory with big players on both sides exerting significant impacts on the drama, Yuvraj decisively broke the Australians.
Australia put up a creditable defence of their title, especially in the context of their Ashes debacle, but ultimately lacked form and power in the middle order, control and incision from their slow bowlers, and a Shaun Tait who was not a shadow of his fearsome 2007 World Cup incarnation.
Thus, cricket has a dream semi-final. A dream at least for cricket fans and for English comedians on their first cricket-writing trip to Asia who have never seen an India-Pakistan cricket clash at close quarters, if not for administrators, security forces, and those who like their sport untainted by hype. India’s batsmen now average 74 against Test-opposition spin in this World Cup. Pakistan’s spinners average 21 against Test-team batsmen. Mohali, for all its atmospheric fervour and media frenzy, will be a cricketing fascination.
● In a game such as yesterday’s, you can look back at innumerable moments and passages of play that proved crucial to the ultimate outcome. The Australian middle order had another critical failure – Clarke, Hussey and White between them, from 110 for 2 in the 23rd over, scored 21 for 3 from 50 deliveries as India choked the innings with considerable skill.
During this phase of the game, with Australia having successfully attacked Munaf early on, Dhoni put on Tendulkar (twice) and Kohli (once) to bowl one-over spells – the 30th, 36th and 41st of the innings. Australia harvested just 15 runs from these three isolated overs by unexpected bowlers whom they would have been neither expecting nor preparing to confront. They had never faced Kohli, and Sachin, once a key part of India’s ODI attack, had bowled just 27 overs to Australia in all cricket since 2004, and only 5 balls in the last two-and-a-half years.
In Kohli’s case, the unfamiliarity would have been exacerbated by the confusion generated by his bowling action, an indecipherable flail of biomechanical surrealism in which it appears that the young man is attempting to simultaneously bowl and change his shirt.
It was bold, enterprising and, as it transpired, brilliant captaincy, that contributed significantly to Australia’s failure to accelerate.
● If Kohli the bowler has put the MCC Coaching Manual through an industrial shredder, as a batsman he has style and poise. He had played with admirable assurance amidst grindingly oppressive tension for 24, before splatting a David Hussey full toss straight to midwicket. Splatting a David Hussey full toss straight to midwicket is seldom advisable. Most cricket sages would caution strongly against it. Particularly at a pivotal stage of a World Cup quarter-final with an entire nation thinking: “I tell you what I hope Virat Kohli does not to: splat a David Hussey fulltoss straight to midwicket”.
In the list of Iconic Wicket-Taking Deliveries Of Cricket History, alongside Waqar’s inswinging yorker, Murali’s doosra, Warne’s hard-spun legbreak, McGrath’s off-stump nagger, and the rest, few would include David Hussey’s full toss. It would probably rank just below Mike Atherton’s googly and just above Inzamam-ul-Haq’s bouncer.
Kohli was hammered in the TV commentary for playing “a stupid shot”. This criticism was erroneous. There was nothing stupid about it. It was a full toss onto which Hussey might as well have written in luminous ink: “Please hit me for 4”. In the circumstances, a “stupid” shot would have been a forward defensive. Kohli played a sensible shot. He just played it carelessly. Gambhir’s run out, on the other hand, was as stupid as a fossilised egg after a frying pan to the head.
● On my ZaltzCricket twitter feed, I was asked just before the start of play to predict what would happen. I thought I would attempt something more specific than the standard, “India/Australia will win”. So I foresaw Australia scoring 265 for 7, and India chasing successfully with 266 for 6. My phone lines are currently being tapped by the ICC. For today’s match, the following will 95% happen: if South Africa bat first, they will score 288 for 9. New Zealand will then be bowled out for 235. If New Zealand bat first, they will post 204 all out, which South Africa will chase for the loss of three wickets. You read it here first. (Please bear in mind that, despite yesterday’s success, my career predictive punditry rating is on a par with Phil Tufnell’s ICC Test batting rating.)
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writerFeeds: Andy Zaltzman
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Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on ESPNcricinfo.