An uncertain Virender Sehwag, losing last four games at the venue, never to have beaten Australia in a global tournament while chasing since 1987, poor fielding side and a weak bowling unit were only some of the odds that India had to face. Yes, a flawed but tournament favourites Team India was locking horns with a deflating by the day yet defending champion Australian team on March 24, 2011 at Motera, Ahmedabad.
But at the back of Men in Blue’s minds were not only the quarterfinal match but probably also the bashing they received from the same opponents about eight years ago in the finals of the same tournament. It was the unforgettable March 23, 2003 when Australia led by their skipper’s knock of a lifetime, beat Sourav Ganguly-led India by a big margin.
Circa 2011, there was a new captain of the Men In Blue ship, and some of the hurt members of the 2003 squad were about to play a key role in the anticipated turnaround, namely Yuvraj Singh, Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan. But Australia’s hero once again their fading skipper - Ricky Ponting. Winning the toss, he brought his team out to bat first.
Knowing that the daggers were already out to cut his throat, Ponting took the onus on himself to ensure Australia, who hadn’t missed a semifinal date at the World Cup since 1992, continue their quest for a fifth World Cup. The defending champions were highly reliant on their opening pair of Brad Haddin and Shane Watson.
The two gave a decent start before R Ashwin got the breakthrough in the 10th over cleaning up Watson. In came the Tasmanian Punter who knew this was the moment. Along with his wicketkeeper, Ponting stitched a crispy and fruitful partnership of 70 before tournament’s man with the golden arm; Yuvraj Singh got Haddin caught at covers. But Haddin (53) had done his job to some extent before leaving the crease for the current and future captain to set the house in order.
Michael Clarke didn’t do anything to help Punter rebuild the Aussie fall. And an uncharacteristic swipe got him caught at deep midwicket to the pie-chucking Yuvi’s left armers. The situation was then tailor made for Mr Cricket Michael Hussey to show his support for the skipper. But he fell to the guile of Zaheer Khan. On the other hand, Ponting was creating a template for batsmen world wide on how to play when you enter the twilight in your career.
In his prime he would have shown who’s the boss but here Ponting decided to just keep the fundamentals right. And he did it in some style scoring his first century in 13 months then. He didn’t know that this was the last time ever in ODIs where he would acknowledge the crowd for completing a ton. A late cameo from David Hussey gave Australia a total to fight for, 260.
A determined India came out to beat the odds. Virender Sehwag was surprisingly circumspect and his senior pro Tendulkar was the more enterprising one. A role reversal of sorts. Sehwag was bounced out by Watson for a meager 15. In came Gautam Gambhir and with Tendulkar the two kept India in the hunt for a dream semifinal with Pakistan.
The two played every ball on merit and ensured that the run rate didn’t go down against a disciplined Aussie bowling. A moment of lapse by Tendulkar brought his fall. He nibbled an otherwise wayward Shaun Tait delivery to Haddin behind the stumps, much to the joy of eleven yellow clothed men on the field. The 50,970 off the 51,000 cricket fans were stunned.
Southpaw Gambhir was joined by statemate Virat Kohli. The two once again kept things going for the side. But a wild swipe by Kohli to a David Hussey full toss was caught by Clarke and it looked as if Australia were beginning to come back not knowing Yuvraj had earmarked his career best performances for this tournament.
And entered the Prince of Punjab. His intentions could be well gauged from the first ball which he dispatched it to midwicket boundary. Two balls later, he paddle swept a Jason Krejza delivery to the fence and he was in action. Australia knew the game would be over for them even before they would realize if Yuvi continued in this fashion.
But a freakish run out of Gambhir gave Aussies a fresh lease of life. The Delhi batsman ran for a non-existent single as Yuvraj didn’t even budge from his crease after hitting the ball to backward of square. Gambhir had to take the long walk back to the pavilion just after completing a well-crafted 50. The scoreboard showed 168/4 in 33.2 overs, odds favouring Australia then.
And then five overs later, a struggling MS Dhoni, who joined his buddy in the centre, got out while cutting a Brett Lee bouncer. It was a ‘catches win matches’ moment as Clarke at point held on to a blinder with the ball buzzing away to his right. Australia knew this was the moment to seize and now it was their match to lose.
The skipper left it to his Man Friday Yuvraj and another bumchum Suresh Raina when the equation said 74 needed of 12 overs. Aussies went for the kill as after Raina all left was the Indian tail. But the two southpaws counterattacked and how.
The fast bowling pair of Lee and Tait was outclassed; Ponting shuffled them with Watson and Krejza but to no avail. The two kept scoring runs like they had nothing to lose and Ponting’s constant bowling changes didn’t affect them either.
There was a moment when the equation read 22 needed of 30 balls, an easy target for India. But Raina was in redemption mode and the first ball of the 46th over, bowled by Lee was sent over long on. Mind you this was the batting power play, a period where India had struggled throughout the tournament. But not on that day.
Three overs later, everything just came to a standstill. Fifth ball of the 48th over was a length ball on off stump. Yuvraj crashed it through covers to the boundary line with a war cry to follow. Crowds went into a delirium which marked the end of the Aussie reign and the beginning of…