Mesmeric Murali sends Punjab packing
Mooraaleee! The announcer led the chant through the PA at the Kingsmead Stadium as the mesmerising contortionist lured Punjab's top scorer Luke Pomersbach into a fatal lunge. That 26 was Punjab's highest score told a tale of devastation by the spinners, especially by Muttiah Muralitharan.
The little big moment of the match came at the toss. MS Dhoni has, through this tournament, used the opportunity afforded by the toss - which is broadcast around the ground - to throw challenges to the opposition in the past; today, he turned the heat on his bowlers. He didn't need much prodding to talk about their failure and spoke at length about how his batsmen have shouldered the burden but the bowlers have let the team down. However, he ended that rather public flogging on a note of support, saying he was sure his bowlers would stand up this time. They did. The batsmen failed for once but the spinners saved the day.
Muralitharan came on within the Powerplays, something he rarely does while playing for Sri Lanka, and dipped into his bag of tricks. The score at the time read 25 for 1 in four overs, Punjab chasing a meagre 117. Everyone knows what he can do but not many know how best to respond. Shane Warne's fans have always believed their hero has more guile; Warne, they argue, thinks out batsmen more than Murali does. Murali, they say, uses the mysterious mode of delivery as his main weapon.
Well, he'd be a fool if he didn't. When you have an action that can throw people off and when you have deliveries that can spin big either way and which many batsmen seem unable to pick, your first attempt would be to strike with the mystery. If they survive it, Murali then changes his gameplan. He will toy with the lesser batsmen but, with the top-order, you can see the brain cooking up devious plans. As he showed again today.
Simon Katich, who likes to shuffle towards off even against the spinners, was sorted out round his legs. Pomersbach was harassed with the doosras before being packed off with a dipping, sharply turning off break. Pomersbach lunged - and so did Suresh Raina at first slip to collect the ball. By the end his figures read 4-0-8-2. With the pitch taking sharp turn, Raina and R Ashwin too chipped in with vital wickets to send Punjab out of the tournament.
Raina the offspinner has been a revelation. Against Punjab in the earlier round, he came on at the death to kill a spirited chase. Today, he had to ensure that he completed the job started by Murali. He has a nice side-on action with the ability to delay the release by that crucial extra second that allows him to spot the batsmen's intent. He took out Yuvraj, who was looking for the big hit, with a skidding delivery that came in. It was the killer blow. Punjab never recovered.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo