India and Pakistan have a lot in common

cricket blogs for Yahoo Cricket Columns

One ended Australia's unbeaten 34-match run while the other stopped their 12-year run as champions. Both India and Pakistan defeated Ricky Ponting's men back to back to set up a mouth-watering semi-final clash at Mohali.


Dhoni's India booked their World Cup semi-final berth defeating defending champions Australia by five wickets in the quarter-final while Pakistan had it easy against a sorry West Indies - who lost the match by 10 wickets.


So what did the two semi-finalists do for their famous victory over Australia?


Unlike previous editions, cricket pundits were sure Australia won't go far in the tournament without the likes of Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. They missed them dearly, didn't they? Afridi and Dhoni were closely monitoring Australia's unalterable decline and took full advantage of the inevitable cracks. The huge call for Ponting's head - at just about time - contributed to the eventuality. (Ponting stepped down as Australia's Test and ODI captain today but said he will be available for selection.)


Pakistan, under charismatic Shahid Afridi, targeted Australia's flimsy batting order for a historic win. Their spin trio - Abdur Rehman, Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez - bowled 29 overs between themselves giving away just 94 runs as Australia were bundled out for 176 - their lowest World Cup total since 1992. Their fielding was superb too. Pakistan coasted to victory in 41 overs. "We have made some plans against them because they are very strong mentally and physically, so you will see in the game we will do something new against these guys," Afridi had said prior to the match.


Taking a cue from that match, India went a step further and bowled 32 overs of spin to restrict the defending champions for 260. Ravichandran Ashwin, who started the proceedings and back-up spinner Yuvraj Singh took four wickets between themselves to set the tone. India's batsmen then did the rest reaching the target with 14 balls to spare as Ponting was left with more headaches. A lot was said about our fielding and we witnessed a radical upgrading as Indian fielders threw themselves at everything to contain the Aussies. "I'd have been satisfied keeping Australia to 250, but we had our best fielding unit today. I think we saved around 15 runs that we didn't need to chase," said a relieved Dhoni.


Both Dhoni and Afridi rotated their bowlers regularly foxing the Australians before they could drop anchor. Moreover, the batting line-up didn't have the quality against shrewd attacks. In all, only skipper Ricky Ponting managed a century during their whole campaign. The alien conditions (spin wise) notwithstanding, Australian bowlers lacked the level of thinking and preparation their predecessors did...and their opponents just exploited that.


(Injury-prone South Australia speedster Shaun Tait, who took 11 wickets in seven matches at the World Cup, decided to retire from One-day cricket to prolong his Twenty20 career.)


Coming back to the all-important game, Pakistan seems to be at ease now with a new-found unity and skipper Afridi should take a bow here. The eccentric all-rounder listens to and supports his players, and the results are there for all to see. He has effectively shifted the mood from controversies and indiscipline - which once described the Pakistan team - to cricket where it belongs. The team, under the leadership of Afridi, is confident and importantly not scared.


After many dress rehearsals, India seems to have found their perfect final XI just before the semi-final match against arch-rivals Pakistan. The inclusion of Ashwin has given the bowling unit teeth that were missing before the Windies match. The lanky off-spinner has variety and can stem the flow of runs despite bowling in the powerplay. If Ashwin was good news, Suresh Raina's inclusion has filled the holes in India's fielding to some extent. The southpaw was focused in his first match of the World Cup against Australia which helped India avenged their 2003 mauling.


- India can afford to go in with Sreesanth instead of Munaf as the pitch at Mohali promises lot of pace and bounce.


In high pressure games like the one at Punjab Cricket Association Stadium on Wednesday, the onus will be on the senior and experienced players to motivate the team, however, India would like Yuvraj Singh to continue with his purple patch.


The whole world has been keenly awaiting the semi-finals to be played between four deserving teams, which brings me to a question. Has this been the most exciting World Cup ever?