Rampant India edge home in humdinger
Yuvraj Singh's electrifying 70 led the batting charge and Sreesanth delivered the telling blows with the ball as India produced a magnificent performance to beat Australia by 15 runs and set up a dream all-subcontinent final against Pakistan at the ICC World Twenty20. For much of their pursuit of 189, Australia were well in contention, with Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds muscling balls to the rope, but India kept their nerve superbly to clinch another famous victory.
Thousands of Indian flags were waved with abandon as Kingsmead came to resemble Little India, but Australia were still marginal favourites with 41 needed from the final four overs. Symonds was still there, having biffed his way to 43 from 25 balls, but the moment Irfan Pathan pegged back his off stump with a delivery that evaded the attempted cut, the momentum shifted decisively towards India.
Harbhajan Singh conceded just three runs in the next over, yorking Michael Clarke in the process, and Rudra Pratap Singh then returned to bowl an outstanding over, having gone for plenty in his opening spell. When the inexperienced Joginder Sharma was handed the ball for the final over, 22 were needed. Michael Hussey, the master finisher, was on strike, but there was to be no comeback here. A miscue induced by Sharma's lack of pace landed up in Yuvraj Singh's hands at deep midwicket, and Brett Lee was then cleaned up by a yorker as the Indian players started impromptu victory jigs on the field.
Australia were left to reflect on a middle-order meltdown, and an astonishing second half of the Indian innings where Yuvraj, Robin Uthappa and Mahendra Singh Dhoni drove, flicked and bludgeoned 128 runs. Uthappa added 84 with Yuvraj in just 39 balls, and Dhoni provided the final flourishes as India ensured that Australia would have a Table Mountain-like target to scale.
Yuvraj, who had missed the South Africa game after his 12-ball half-century against England, carried on in six-hitting vein, pulling Stuart Clark, the top wicket-taker in the competition, for a huge one over midwicket. Adam Gilchrist responded by bringing back Brett Lee, but Yuvraj responded with a sensational pick-up short over square leg for six, taking India to 60 for 2 at the halfway stage, marginally better than the 57 for 3 they had against South Africa.
Virender Sehwag had gone cheaply, edging Mitchell Johnson behind, and Gautam Gambhir's bright 24-run cameo ended with a stunning catch in the outfield, but that merely set the stage for dazzling strokeplay that ripped up whatever plans the Australians may have had.
Symonds came on and was straight away flicked for four, before both Yuvraj and Uthappa pulled him for sixes in a 19-run over. Neither Nathan Bracken's slower variations nor Clark's steadiness could stem the tide, as Yuvraj played sumptuous shots over cover.
Another massive pull for six off Clark took him to 50 from just 20 balls, in an over that went for 21, and the return of Johnson proved just as expensive, with Uthappa slamming a straight six and powering another over midwicket. Australia were wobbling, but respite came in the shape of a nonchalant direct hit from Symonds after Yuvraj had turned down Uthappa for a single.
Dhoni, usually a watchful starter, was into his stride right away, carving Symonds down the ground, and with Yuvraj carrying on merrily, Gilchrist turned to his final bowling option, Clarke. The first ball was heaved for six over midwicket, but Yuvraj didn't quite time the next one, and Hussey ran in to take the catch.
Australia came out prepared to swing, and RP Singh, who had sent South Africa tumbling out of the tournament on Thursday, found the best opening pair in the business a different proposition. Gilchrist repeatedly flicked him over midwicket, once for six, and also lofted one straight down to the sightscreen.
Hayden struggled against Sreesanth, whose eccentricities shouldn't obscure just how beautifully he bowled. There was pace and swing as Hayden repeatedly swished at air, but it was Gilchrist that departed first, castled by a wonderful delivery that swung back in. That was the signal for Hayden to move through the gears, and Sharma was the first to feel the impact, taken for two huge sixes over midwicket as 18 came from the over.
Brad Hodge didn't last long, heaving one to short fine leg, but the advent of Symonds changed the complexion of the game. Both men heaved Pathan for sixes in an over, and Dhoni's gamble to give Sehwag an over, after he had tweaked his hamstring while batting, backfired. Hayden heaved a six to get to 50 from 40 balls, and another loft down the ground saw 20 come from the over.
When Symonds then clattered Harbhajan over midwicket for six more, the DJ started to play Kylie Minogue's Can't Get You Out of my Head, a reflection perhaps on how the match was moving inexorably towards Australia. It was clear that India needed a hero, and they found one in the swing bowler with the long stare and the quirky mannerisms.
Sreesanth came round the wicket and send Hayden's off stump for a walk to end the 66-run partnership, and though Symonds continued to swing to the bitter end, the rest of his mates weren't up to the task. Sreesanth finished with sensational figures of 2 for 12, but the no-name Sharma's last-over best summed up what was a tremendous team effort.
Australia will have to wait to get their hands on this trophy, but for India and Pakistan, who exited the World Cup in such humiliating circumstances just six months ago, Monday afternoon at the Wanderers can't come soon enough. It will surprise no one if the DJ decides to kick off the festivities with Redemption Song.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor on Cricinfo