Shewag ton powers India to title clash with Sri Lanka
Looking down and out after their first three games, India stormed into the final of the Coca-Cola Cup at a sun bathed Sinhalese Sports Club today after their best batting performance of the tournament to date.
Required to chase the highest target of the triangular so far, an imposing 265, after a sloppy performance in the field, India powered to a seven wicket victory over New Zealand, as Virender Shewag, opening the innings in the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, thumped the seventh fastest century in the history of one-day cricket and the second fastest by an Indian.
Already famed for an uncanny likeness to Tendulkar, in both bowling and batting style, Shewag emerged from the shadow of India's star batsmen, with some exhilarating strokeplay in the opening 15 overs.
The Delhi batsmen made full use of the fielding restrictions, hitting Darryl Tuffey for 22 runs in his sixth over and 12 boundaries in all in his first fifty, which came from just 28 balls.
His second fifty was slower, as he focused his attention on a maiden one-day century, but he was still no slouch, reaching the landmark off just 69 balls. Only Shahid Alfridi (37), Brian Lara (45), Sanath Jayasuriya (48), Mohammad Azharuddin (62), Basit Ali (67) and Ijaz Ahmed (68) have reached three figures off lesser deliveries and not many of them would have been missed only once, like Shewag was by Parore when he had made 98.
This was not, however, just a one man show. When Shewag was bowled by McMillan's first ball, straight after his celebrations, Sourav Ganguly held the innings together with Rahul Dravid, who came to the wicket after the dismissal of VVS Laxman.
Ganguly, lucky to be playing at all after his verbal tirade last evening, for which he was let off by match referee Cammie Smith with just a fine and a slap on the wrists, added 33 with Rahul Dravid and scored 64 from 103 balls before paddling a tame catch to short fine leg.
With 86 runs required from 17.2 overs, India looked well in control having lost just three wickets, but those who have watched the team in the past would not have been totally convinced, especially with the out of touch Hemang Badani and normally slow scoring Dravid at the wicket.
Such fears were quickly soothed, as it became clear that Dravid was in a positive frame of mind and in fine form. He took the bowling by the scruff of the neck and shepherded his side home with an unbeaten 57 from 56 balls. Badani meanwhile chipped in with a fluent 36 from 38 balls that included two sixes.
Earlier, New Zealand won the toss and elected to bat first on a wicket, which was being re-used. Aware that the new ball in the morning represented their greatest threat, they batted cautiously at the start, scoring just 55 runs in the opening 15 overs, which compares unfavourably to the 101 scored by India.
Steadily and professionally, however, Stephen Fleming and Nathan Astle raised the tempo, as they added 138 for the second wicket, before the captain was stumped for 66 as he jumped down the track to Yuvraj Singh.
Astle went on to score 108, his second century of the series, and was well supported by Lou Vincent, who came back into the side today. Vincent scored 45 from 37 deliveries; his highest ever score in ODIs.
India now take on Sri Lanka at the Premadasa International Stadium on Sunday. Full of confidence after three successive victories, they probably even start as favourites.